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US and NATO meet to review Afghanistan

THE United States met NATO allies yesterday to outline its policy review for Afghanistan after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development.

With violence rising ahead of elections in August, Obama has already committed an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, but on Sunday he said military force alone would not end the war.

"What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," he said on CBS TV's "60 Minutes."

"So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's got to be an exit strategy ... There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

The interview gave a taste of what to expect in the results of a comprehensive policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan expected soon. Officials have already said the review would include more coordination with other stakeholders than practiced by the Bush administration.

In Brussels yesterday, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer before briefing the 26 alliance ambassadors.

"It is to give the broad lines of the US strategy review as it now stands," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said. "I don't know that they've arrived at any final conclusions on which President Obama has signed off on, but their thinking is now very close to the conclusion of the process."

Appathurai said he was not aware of a plan, reported in Britain's Guardian newspaper, for Washington and its allies to create an Afghan chief executive or prime minister to bypass President Hamid Karzai, widely seen as ineffective by the West.

In Kabul, Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzadeh said: "I would characterize this as nonsense ... Introducing a prime minister in a country in which there is a constitution which says there is a presidential system is simply impossible".

Some analysts say Washington is going to have to engage in dialogue with Taliban elements, a point Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have conceded recently.

But Taliban-led insurgents such as the Haqqani network, which has admitted carrying out some of the most deadly attacks on civilians and foreign troops, dismiss the dialogue proposals as a trick to weaken and divide militants.


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