Kim Sengupta: A campaign promise that Obama will keep

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The dispatch of 17,000 extra American troops to Afghanistan is in keeping with Barack Obama’s pledge on the campaign trail that he will focus military and foreign policy on a country which was neglected, with dire consequences, by the Bush administration when the “war on terror” moved on to Iraq.

Yet General David Petraeus – the man who successfully implemented the “surge in Iraq” – has been appointed as the overall commander in Afghanistan, triggering predictions that a similar offensive would be repeated in an attempt to check a resurgent Taliban.

There are, however, very different dynamics to the two conflicts. Although the size of the reinforcements just announced suggests that General David D McKiernan, the American commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, will get his wish of an additional 30,000 troops, what happens next is the subject of an ongoing review.

During his first week in office, President Obama held a series of meetings with defence chiefs including General Petraeus and State Department officials led by Hillary Clinton. The overriding theme was that military operations must go hand in hand with sweeping civil sector reforms, with particular emphasis on tackling the endemic corruption that has severely undermined governance underPresident Hamid Karzai.

According to Pentagon sources, President Obama was insistent that an exit strategy must be put in place. A clear message must be sent to Hamid Karzai that the lives of American and Nato soldiers would not be sacrificed just to keep him and his coterie in power and the Islamabad government would be told that there would be no let up in the cross-border predator strikes as long as the insurgents receive sanctuary in Pakistan.

The new US administration is aware that the Afghan deployment takes place with somewhat underwhelming support from the public. Although most Americans still see a correlation between 9/11 and tackling the Taliban, a recent poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found only just over a third were in favour of greater US military commitment. A third wanted no change at all while 29 per cent believed it was time to withdraw.

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