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Pentagon reviewing Afghanistan strategy

  • Story Highlights
  • Defense secretary looking to Iraq success as a guide for Afghanistan
  • Gates focusing on how to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan
  • Officials say they know they must do more than fight insurgents
  • U.S. will work to develop economy, infrastructure and government
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From Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top military commanders are reviewing several aspects of U.S. military policy and strategy in Afghanistan, several defense officials say.

Gates told reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan this week that a fundamental reconsideration of Afghanistan strategy will be under way during the final months of the Bush administration, according to The Associated Press.

"We are looking at it, and I guess that is as far as I would go," he said. "You have an overall approach, an overall strategy, but you adjust it continually based on the circumstances that you find."

Gates is looking to success in Iraq as a guide for how to turn the tide in Afghanistan war, which has seen more U.S. troop deaths in 2008 than any previous year. One senior Pentagon official said Gates is not considering recommending a surge of troops for a specific time period, as happened in Iraq, but is looking at other aspects of the Iraq success.

"I think it's a long-term challenge in Afghanistan, and I think we see some lessons to be learned from Iraq in terms of the need to establish security as a precondition for economic development and better governance, and that means more forces," Gates told AP.

The senior official said Gates is focusing on how to reduce civilian casualties in Afghanistan, especially as more U.S. troops arrive in the country.

The defense secretary has ordered commanders to quickly pay compensation to citizens when their family members are accidentally killed or their property is damaged by the U.S. military and to consider ways to be more precise in their nighttime operations.

President Bush recently announced that an additional Army brigade will deploy to Afghanistan within months, though the top commander there requested up to three brigades, according to senior Pentagon officials.

"I've asked for more than that, but this is a good start," Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said this week.

"We have requirements back in Washington that everyone agrees are valid," he added, and he said he is confident more troops will be coming. "It's not a question of if; it's a question of when."

In fact, McKiernan sees a need for an additional brigade, and officials calculate this could mean they need to identify as many as 15,000 additional troops to send.

In addition to a more aggressive fighting against insurgents on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Pentagon officials said the United States is seeking to get more direct command responsibility in southern Afghanistan, where NATO is presently operating and there is heavy fighting as well.

Finally, the United States recognizes it needs to do more in Afghanistan than just fight the insurgents. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a House hearing this month that more attention needs to be paid to developing Afghanistan's economy, infrastructure and government.

"Afghanistan doesn't just need more boots on the ground. It needs more trucks on the roads, teachers in schools, trained judges and lawyers in those courts," Mullen said.

All About AfghanistanU.S. Department of Defense

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