Monday, November 15, 2010

When past hubris meets stubborn reality and victory is no longer attainable, the language of choice is bafflegab

The Obama administration and its NATO allies will declare late this week that the war in Afghanistan has made sufficient progress to begin turning security control over to its government by spring, months before the administration's July deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops, according to U.S. and European officials.

Even as it announces the "transition" process, which will not immediately include troop withdrawals, NATO will also state its intention to keep combat troops in Afghanistan until 2014, a date originally set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The seemingly contradictory messages, in communiques and agreements to be released at NATO's upcoming summit in Lisbon, are intended to reassure U.S. and European audiences that the process of ending the war has begun.

At the same time, the coalition wants to signal to the Taliban - along with Afghans and regional partners who fear a coalition withdrawal, and Republicans in Congress who oppose it - that they are not leaving anytime soon.

"We have to assemble a coherent narrative . . . that everyone buys into," said a senior administration official, one of several who discussed ongoing alliance negotiations on the condition of anonymity.

An "enduring partnership" agreement being negotiated between NATO and Afghanistan will extend security support indefinitely. A bilateral U.S.-Afghanistan accord, similar to the "strategic framework" signed with Iraq when troop-withdrawal deadlines were set there in 2008, will promise long-term economic, diplomatic and security cooperation and is to be completed by January.

For the administration, the agreements are a way to draw domestic attention away from President Obama's controversial July withdrawal pledge and toward a more "strategic" plan, officials said.

But as they strive for a common strategy, each coalition member - including the United States - is conducting its own internal assessment of the Afghanistan mission amid high domestic disapproval of the war and pressure to justify its continuance. The administration is planning a December review of the increase in U.S. military and civilian forces that Obama announced last year.

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