United States President Barack Obama will announce Friday a new strategy to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaeda in its safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, senior U.S. officials said on Friday, adding that the United States will engage Iran, India, Russia, and China in Afghanistan.
Obama's plans will announce that the United States will deploy 4,000 extra troops to train Afghan security forces in a strategy to disrupt al-Qaeda and roll back Taliban advances, the officials said.
The additional troops will embed and partner with the Afghan military, while hundreds of U.S. government civilian personnel will boost under-resourced reconstruction and development programs.
The announcement of the new strategy comes at a time when violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S.-led forces invaded in 2001 to topple the Taliban. The Islamist militia has staged a strong comeback and sharply escalated its attacks.
Obama, who criticized his predecessor George W. Bush for becoming distracted by the Iraq war and allowing security to deteriorate in Afghanistan, ordered a review of U.S. policy as one of his first official acts after taking office on Jan. 20.
The new strategy will also focus on neighboring Pakistan, where the Taliban has safe havens in tribal areas along the border.
"For the first time, we are approaching this problem as two countries -- Afghanistan, Pakistan -- but one challenge and one theater for our diplomacy and our reconstruction efforts to work in. We see this as an integrated problem," said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The officials said al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, were believed to be in an unknown location in Pakistan plotting fresh attacks on the United States and its allies. U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan after al-Qaeda launched the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
If the administration stresses its focus on combating al-Qaeda too much, it risks exacerbating Afghans' fears that the West is not interested in their welfare and will abandon them. That could play into the hands of the Taliban.
Under the new strategy, the United States will also "aggressively" pursue regional diplomatic efforts; set benchmarks to measure its performance as well as those of NATO member states, Afghanistan and Pakistan; and boost economic aid to Pakistan to shore up the weak civilian government.
Initial descriptions of the strategy left many questions about Pakistan unanswered.
Many experts believe the nuclear-armed country's instability and its al-Qaeda safe havens present a far greater threat to U.S. national security than Afghanistan.
As part of the new diplomatic effort, the United States will engage India, Russia, China and Iran, and Obama's special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, will hold bilateral meetings with Afghanistan and Pakistan every six to eight weeks, the officials said.
The 4,000 military trainers are in addition to the 17,000 troops Obama has already ordered sent to Afghanistan to help stabilize the country ahead of an election in August.
Training Afghans to fight
"We want to move as aggressively and as quickly as possible to build up an Afghan army that is capable of defending its country and defeating the Taliban and al-Qaeda," one U.S. official said.
The United States plans to expand the size of the Afghan army from about 80,000 to 134,000 and the police force from 78,000 to about 82,000. The U.S. officials said further increases were possible.
"It is much cheaper in the long run to train Afghans to fight this war than it is to send Americans half way around the globe," one of the officials said.
In the short-term, however, the current $2 billion a month cost of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan are projected to increase 60 percent, another official said.
The officials said an announcement would be made at NATO'S 60th anniversary summit next week on NATO member states sending more troops to Afghanistan for elections due in August. France will say it plans to send more police trainers, they said.
Obama briefed Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari on the new strategy but told them there would be "no blank checks" for the two countries, the officials said.