An upcoming December review of Afghanistan strategy will help the president determine the "path" and "pace" of the U.S. drawdown of troops and transition of territory to the Afghan government next July, according to a senior administration official.
The approximately 70-page classified review is being prepared to assess progress one year after President Barack Obama announced he was adding 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. At the time, the president said that by July 2011 the United States will begin pulling some troops out depending on the conditions.
The senior administration official spoke to the media on Tuesday on the condition he not be identified.
The administration official stressed the review was not meant to rewrite strategy, rather it is to assess whether the current strategy is on the right path.
Before that review is completed in mid-December, the United States will participate in a NATO conference on the war. A major focus of those meetings, which begin next week in Lisbon, Portugal, will be determining how the United States and other countries will establish an "enduring" commitment to Afghanistan so that, while the country "increasingly stands up, she doesn't have to stand alone" after territory is transitioned, the official said.
The United States expects Afghanistan security forces to take the lead in conducting security operations throughout the country by 2014.
The "quite comprehensive" review will focus on eight objectives covering progress in counter-terrorism, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the official said.
A declassified version of the review will be released to Congress and the U.S. public either at the end of this year or the beginning of 2011. The official said a fuller version would not be released because disclosure could place lives at risk and jeopardize progress the U.S. is trying to generate.
The report will help the president decide on the level of transition to the Afghanistan government, but the official said it will not be the "defining" answer since there will still be a half-year of events that could affect the decision on what happens starting in July 2011.
While the official said the Afghan government's efforts to talk with insurgents has not progressed yet beyond "talks with talks," the fact those are progressing at all is an indication to the United States that the Taliban "may" be under pressure, the official said. The review will try to consider where that pressure is being exerted by the NATO forces and how it can be sustained and increased.
While 2011 and 2014 may signal potential end dates for Americans weary of the war in Afghanistan, the overall U.S. effort there won't be done even in 2014, another senior U.S. official stressed.
"This is not gonna happen on July 2011. It's going to take time. Four years, at least. And even then, we're gonna be there for some time," the official said.
Even after some areas of the country are handed over to Afghan forces, the local government will need money, supplies and possibly manpower to maintain control.
"Sustainment is going to be a key issue. The only way Afghan forces CAN be sustained over time is with foreign assistance," the official said.
The official also defended the alliance's commitment to Afghanistan, saying that of the 10,000 troops pledged, about 8,300 have deployed and more are coming.
"With the exception of the Dutch and Canadians, no country has said they'll leave Afghanistan," the official said. "The British have said they'll end combat operations by 2014. But the strategy is designed so that, hopefully, we don't have to be in a combat situation at that time."