WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama announced his new war plan for Afghanistan last year, the centerpiece of the strategy — and a big part of the rationale for sending 30,000 additional troops — was to safeguard the Afghan people, provide them with a competent government and win their allegiance.
Eight months later, that counterinsurgency strategy has shown little success. Instead, what has turned out to work well is an approach American officials have talked much less about: counterterrorism, military-speak for the targeted killings of insurgents from al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Faced with that reality, and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents. The shift could change the nature of the war and potentially, in the view of some officials, hasten a political settlement with the Taliban.
Commando raids over the last five months have taken more than 130 significant insurgents out of action, while interrogations of captured fighters have led to a fuller picture of the enemy, according to administration officials and diplomats.
Judging that they have gained leverage over the Taliban, U.S. officials are debating when to try to bring them to the negotiating table. Rattling the Taliban, officials said, may open the door to reconciling with them.
A former militia commander who supported the Afghan government and two others were killed Saturday by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at a football game in northern Afghanistan, officials said. Officials said 19 others were injured in the attack in Kunduz on the commander known by one name, Selab.