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Obama's Afghan plan: Leave Al Qaeda to others

Despite the surge, he wants others to take over and to ease the US out.

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As a candidate, Barack Obama called Afghanistan "the war we must win."

On Friday, however, President Obama laid out a new US strategy that sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as one problem and provides more resources for both countries, but also with the goal that they eventually defeat Islamic terrorists largely on their own.

He no longer seeks a US victory over Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Rather, he now defines the US interest as merely preventing the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan and will do so by turning over much of that task to others.

He calls such a handover a "new sense of shared responsibility."

His plan appears designed to have a US surge in troops, money, and civilian workers merely contain and deter Taliban and Al Qaeda for about two more years and then slowly reduce America's role. He will set out benchmarks for Afghan and Pakistani leaders to meet by 2011, such as beefing up their capabilities against terrorists.

The implied threat is that the US will withdraw its forces if those benchmarks are not achieved.

"We will not blindly stay the course," Obama says.

His administration is even trying to lower American expectations of ever defeating Al Qaeda, even though that officially remains a goal. His officials now refer to the campaign against Osama bin Laden and his followers as simply an "overseas contingency operation," not a war on violent Islamists.

And he doesn't call for democracy in Afghanistan as way to keep the Taliban at bay, saying only that the US "can't dictate" that country's future.

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