[Obama is faltering under the weight of the people’s objections to his prolonging and escalating Bush’s war in Afghanistan. By announcing that his plan has an ending he and his handlers are hoping to fool the growing resistance movement into allowing him a “temporary” surge. It’s a scam, people, just like everything else. Don’t let up. Pour on the heat.]
By PETER SPIEGEL and YOCHI J. DREAZEN
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can’t send additional troops without a plan for getting them out.
The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now — with or without a specific timetable — encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to their security.
Hillary Clinton, with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, arrives in Kabul on Wednesday for an unannounced visit.
"It’s not a good idea," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"When the area has been stabilized…then it’s time to go home. But to set up a timetable for people in that neck of the woods, they’ll just wait us out," said Rep. Skelton, a prominent supporter of proposals by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Kabul, to send more troops for a counterinsurgency campaign.
Mr. Obama isn’t asking for the firm, publicly declared handover dates in Afghanistan that were the feature of early Iraq war plans, according to senior administration and military officials.
Instead, the officials said, the administration wants the Pentagon to identify key milestones for Afghanistan to meet, in its governance and the capability of its security forces, and then give a rough sense of when each objective is likely to be achieved. Reaching these goals would allow the U.S. role to shift away from direct combat, allowing troop levels to decline.
Mr. Obama said Wednesday in a CNN interview that he believed his new Afghan policy needed to include an "endgame" because "unless you impose that kind of discipline, [U.S. policy] could end up leading to a multiyear occupation that won’t serve the interests of the United States."
Keeping the public eye on an exit strategy — rather than on how many new troops would be deployed, the subject of much of the U.S. public debate so far — could also help Mr. Obama sell his strategy at home.
"What the White House wants is a strategic glide path that gives a sense of the path ahead and the time it will take to meet each specific target," the defense official said. "It’s not a hard-and-fast timetable for withdrawal."
However, Mr. Brown — who faces significant, growing U.K. public opposition to the war — has called for an international conference next year that would come up with a "process for transferring district-by-district to full Afghan control," and set a clear schedule for doing so, beginning as early as next year.
In the 2007 surge in Iraq, planners eventually set benchmarks that weren’t tied to specific dates. The models under consideration for Afghanistan are variations of the timeline devised by Gen. David Petraeus in the fall of 2007 that laid out six stages for gradually reducing U.S. force levels in Iraq, according to a defense official.
Some senior military officials involved in Afghan policy said getting the Afghan government to agree to benchmarks tied to a schedule could spur President Hamid Karzai to meet governance goals.
"He won’t act if he thinks we’ll be there forever, and with constantly increasing numbers of troops," said a senior military official.
As President Obama searches for an exit strategy for Afghanistan, WSJ’s Peter Spiegel says it’s becoming clear that this won’t necessarily involve a firm timetable, but will more likely involve other measures for determining withdrawal.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Kabul on Wednesday to attend Mr. Karzai’s inauguration Thursday, continued to pressure the Afghan president to overhaul his government to make it more responsive to the electorate.
"There is now a clear window of opportunity for President Karzai and his government to make a new compact with the people of Afghanistan to demonstrate that now there will be accountability and tangible results to improve the lives of people throughout this country," Mrs. Clinton told U.S. Embassy staff.
A military official briefed on the U.S. deliberations said the issue of timelines is likely to affect the mix of how additional forces are used between three different missions: direct combat, securing urban areas to protect local populations, and training Afghan security forces.
A decision to push for a quick ramp-up of Afghan forces may lead more of the reinforcements to be deployed as trainers for Afghan army and policy units, the official said.
Another military official said a sped-up training effort could lead to an "effectively sized" Afghan force by 2013, which would allow North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to concentrate on training and providing support to domestic security forces. "There are of course many factors that could influence this — including what the enemy and population do to hedge their bets against an established withdrawal date, which is why we generally don’t like to discuss timelines," said the military official of the 2013 goal.
—Anand Gopal and Alan Cullison in Kabul contributed to this article.