WASHINGTON -The Obama administration plans to complete its overhaul of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan by April, in advance of a critical NATO summit, the White House said yesterday. But even before the reassessment is complete, President Barack Obama is likely to decide on the details of a U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said.
"The president will have several options in front of him, and I think he will make those decisions probably in the course of the next few days," Gates said.
Stepping up its efforts in the region, the administration announced that Bruce O. Riedel, a former CIA official and harsh critic of former President George W. Bush's handling of Afghanistan, will chair a White House review.
Now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, Riedel will report to Obama and James L. Jones, the national security adviser. The White House review is one of several in the administration. Riedel's task is to bring together the various strategy proposals.
Riedel accused Bush last month of a "half-hearted effort" in Afghanistan. He supports plans to send additional troops, warning that both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are in a perilous state.
He also has urged stepped-up road construction and economic development. Gates has urged more modest U.S. goals in Afghanistan.
Riedel will lead the review along with Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Michelle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy. Officials said it must be finished by April, when Obama attends a NATO summit in Europe commemorating the 60th anniversary of the alliance.
Obama offered a hint of his likely policy at his news conference Monday, saying a key goal would be eliminating havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan in which the Taliban and other extremist groups operate.
U.S. commanders have said they could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan this year, nearly doubling the American contingent. Gates has said two brigades could be ready to go by spring and a third ready by summer.