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Renewed Focus on Afghan-Pakistan Region Includes Broad Policy Review

The Obama team is casting a renewed focus on the Afghan-Pakistan corridor, including a broad review of policy on the region. Special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke outlines efforts to define U.S. goals for the region.

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    In his first major military decision as commander-in-chief, President Obama yesterday ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by almost half, to a total of close to 55,000 by this summer.

    It underscored the concern he raised throughout the campaign: his intent to stabilize a deteriorating situation.

    Today at the Pentagon, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, welcomed the move.

    GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, U.S. commander in Afghanistan: I am very delighted with the president's decision. I will use most of those forces in the southern part of Afghanistan, an area where we do not have sufficient security presence, an area that has deteriorated somewhat, an area where we need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency.


    One hundred and fifty-five U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan last year, making 2008 the deadliest for U.S. forces since 2001. More than 20 have died just since the start of this year.


    But even with these additional forces, I have to tell you that 2009 is going to be a tough year.


    And insurgent attacks have increased and spread throughout the country. Just last week, Taliban gunmen with explosives-packed vests killed more than 20 Afghans and wounded dozens in a brazen attack on government buildings in Kabul.

    As that incident happened, the Obama administration's new point man for the region was across the border in Pakistan. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke was on a diplomatic mission aimed at redirecting the course of the Afghan struggle, one he called "a more daunting challenge than Iraq."

    Holbrooke next stopped in Afghanistan, and then India, where he was met with news of a cease-fire deal between the Pakistani government and a pro-Taliban Islamist group.

  • BADSHAH SARDAR (through translator):

    Sharia law will be implemented and, after this, peace will be restored.


    Militants in Pakistan's restive Swat Valley agreed to stop fighting in return for some autonomy. Similar agreements in the past have allowed insurgents given sanctuary in Pakistan to regroup and led to increased cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

  • Another thorny issue:

    the long-simmering India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir, something President Obama has suggested the U.S. might get involved in.

    But from India's leadership last week came this message: Stay out of it.

    ANAND SHARMA, minister of state for external affairs, India: There's no question of any outside mediation. It's bilateral. Even Pakistan agrees. We have agreements between the two countries, and we need to talk. But as far as Kashmir for us is concerned, even vis-a-vis Pakistan, Kashmir is an internal matter.


    One more reminder of the complexity the Obama administration faces in trying to address any part of the problems in this region.

    And Ambassador Holbrooke joins me now.

    You just returned yesterday. Thank you very much for joining us.

    RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan: Great to see you, Judy.