WASHINGTON — The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran — and looks favorably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers.
Obama also intends to renew the U.S. commitment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a priority the president-elect believes President Bush has played down after failing to apprehend the al-Qaida leader. Critical of Bush during the campaign for what he said was the president's extreme focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan, Obama also intends to move ahead with a planned deployment of thousands of additional U.S. troops there.
The emerging broad strokes of Obama's approach are likely to be welcomed by a number of senior U.S. military officials who advocate a more aggressive and creative course for the deteriorating conflict. Taliban attacks and U.S. casualties this year are the highest since the war began in 2001.
Some military leaders remain wary of Obama's pledge to order a steady withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, to be completed in 16 months — an order advisers say Obama is likely to give in his first weeks in office. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called a withdrawal time line "dangerous."
But conversations with several Obama advisers and a number of senior military strategists reveal a shared sense that the Afghan effort under the Bush administration has been hampered by ideological and diplomatic constraints and an unrealistic commitment to the goal of building a modern democracy — rather than a stable nation that rejects al-Qaida and Islamist extremism and does not threaten U.S. interests. None of those who discussed the subject would speak on the record, citing sensitivities surrounding the presidential transition and the war.
Some senior military strategists have begun to question the U.S. commitment to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is expected to run for re-election next year but is widely considered ineffective.