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Draw down U.S. troops if Afghanistan progress lags, panel recommends

By Laurie Ure, CNN
  • The report was put together by a bipartisan, independent task force
  • It also recommended a long-term partnership with Pakistan, if Pakistan meets conditions
  • The task force was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations

Washington (CNN) -- The United States should consider drastically cutting the number of troops in Afghanistan unless the current strategy starts to show signs of progress, a new report says.

The 98-page independent task force report, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, also says the United States should invest in a long-term partnership with Pakistan, but only if Pakistan takes action against all terrorist organizations.

The report encompasses analysis and recommendations on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan from a 25-member bipartisan task force composed of high-profile military and national security experts. It was chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger.

The group "conditionally" endorses the current U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including plans for a conditions-based military drawdown in July 2011, but warns that America "cannot afford to continue down this costly path" without the potential for lasting progress.

At a news conference Friday discussing the report, Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush, was critical of his former boss.

"After acknowledging that President Obama got a bad lie from the Bush administration regarding Afghanistan, we do salute his attempt at the surge to rectify the situation," Armitage said.

But Armitage emphasized that Obama needs to have a "very deep, clear-eyed review of the situation," and that if "real progress is not deemed to have been made, a majority of us suggest that we change the mission to a much different mission, one of counterterror and continued training of the Afghan National Security Forces."

Regarding Pakistan, Armitage said the government there needs to do a better job pursuing and disabling Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, in the same way that it worries about the Pakistani Taliban.

"If we can't be successful in either jaw-boning, pressuring, or 'sticks-and-carroting' them into this (fighting the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba), then in the long run we are dealing with a very dangerous situation," he warned.

The independent report, titled "U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan," precedes the Obama administration's planned review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, due in December.

The task force panel asks whether the "cloudy picture and high costs" should push the United States to "downsize its ambitions and reduce its military presence in Afghanistan."

"After nine years of U.S. war in the region, time and patience are understandably short," the report reads, acknowledging America's huge budget deficits and sluggish economic recovery.

The task force recommendations for Afghanistan include, among others, shifting a greater burden of that country's security to Afghan forces, and encouraging political reform, national reconciliation, and regional diplomacy.

Regarding Pakistan, the panel recommends that the United States maintain existing levels of economic and technical assistance for reconstruction efforts after that country's devastating summer floods, and expanding training and equipment for police, paramilitaries, and the Pakistani army.