Strategy in Afghanistan under review, Gates says

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the Bush administration is reviewing its war strategy in Afghanistan amid spreading insurgent violence, rising U.S. and allied military deaths, and doubts about winning.

With only a few months left before President Bush leaves office, the administration apparently is attempting to draw a clearer picture for the next commander in chief of what needs to be done to stabilize the country, to sustain and increase international support, and to make the most of U.S. and allied military forces.

Any changes in strategy now being contemplated would not be as substantial as Bush's decision in January 2007 to take a fundamentally different approach in Iraq, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Bush added more than 21,000 combat troops in Iraq and endorsed an overhaul of military strategy.

“Nothing of that magnitude” is being considered for the war in Afghanistan, Morrell cautioned.

The U.S. launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, by al-Qaida, the extremist network that enjoyed protection there by the country's Taliban rulers.

Al-Qaida has since been mostly removed from Afghanistan but remains in sanctuaries in parts of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader, remains at large and is thought to be hiding in Pakistan.

Gates did not say the current U.S. approach in Afghanistan is failing. Nor did he explicitly call for a change of direction. He alluded, instead, to the 2007 makeover of U.S. strategy in Iraq and suggested in an interview with a group of reporters that the administration is reconsidering fundamental aspects of its strategy.

“We are looking at it, and I guess that is as far as I would go” in explaining the process, he said.

“You have an overall approach, an overall strategy, but you adjust it continually based on the circumstances that you find,” Gates said. “We did that in Iraq. We made a change in strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to look at the situation in Afghanistan.”

Gates visited Afghanistan on Wednesday and flew to London for NATO consultations that started Thursday.

Afghanistan is not intended to be a major topic for the meeting although the International Security Assistance Force, led by NATO, is the lead command element in Afghanistan, headed by a U.S. general.