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WASHINGTON — The U.S. and its partners have shortchanged Afghanistan by focusing on short-term goals pursued without a cohesive strategy or a clear understanding of the way the poor, decentralized country works, an independent study concludes.
The incoming Obama administration should refocus the U.S. war and rebuilding effort in Afghanistan and think of the project as the work of a decade at least, according to the report compiled by the United States Institute of Peace.
The assessment was set for release Thursday at a conference to be attended by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Army Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Petraeus' own review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is expected to be presented to Obama a week after he takes office Jan. 20. The plan would shift the focus from the waning fight in Iraq to the escalating Afghan battle.
President George W. Bush's in-house Iraq and Afghanistan adviser has already done a separate assessment; it has not been made public.
"The Bush administration has had all but eight months of its entire tenure to stabilize Afghanistan, and here it is January, and one of the top foreign policy priorities for the Obama administration is to stabilize Afghanistan," said J. Alexander Thier, an Afghan scholar at the institute.
Thier, the report's editor, does not place all blame with the Bush administration, which led an invasion of Afghanistan shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Other countries and international organizations have too often set unrealistic or shortsighted goals for a country unaccustomed to top-down government and where subsistence agriculture is the norm, he said.
The study includes essays by scholars in a range of fields.
The U.S. military is preparing to pour at least 20,000 extra troops into southern Afghanistan to cope with a Taliban insurgency that is fiercer than NATO leaders expected. The new troops will augment the 12,500 NATO soldiers — mainly British, Canadian and Dutch — in what amounts to an Afghan version of the surge in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the U.S. can expect to commit significant numbers of soldiers there for several more years. Gates said he will not have to cut troop levels further in Iraq to free up at least two of those three brigades for Afghan duty.
When the additions are complete, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will climb to more than 50,000, up from the 31,000 troops are there now.
Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the past two years. Taliban militants now control wide swaths of countryside. Military officials say they have enough troops to win battles but not to hold territory, and they hope the influx of troops, plus the continued growth of the Afghan army, will change that.
In 2008, 151 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan, more than in any of the seven years since the invasion to oust the Taliban. U.S. officials warn violence will probably intensify next year.
The institute is an independent, nonpartisan institution established by Congress in 1984 to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and increase peace-building capacity.