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Military sees window to adjust Afghanistan plan

Reviews under way, to be ready for the next president, are intended to accelerate a new strategy.

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The US military is working to put a new strategy in place for Afghanistan and Pakistan that could allow it to expand airfields, preposition military forces and equipment, and prepare for a more robust effort soon against Islamist extremists in the region.

Frustrated for years by a lack of direction from the White House on Afghanistan, many defense officials say time is of the essence in developing a new way forward and having it ready to implement as soon as a new president is seated and can agree to it.

The military sees this period – as one administration is ending and another is set to begin – as an opportunity to offer the next president an Afghanistan strategy less shaped by lofty democratic ideals and more by what Pentagon strategists believe can actually be achieved there.

The aim for now is to put the pieces in place so that a new strategy can be "turned on" as soon as possible.

"The worst thing for us would be a gap in administrations, a period of indecision," says one senior military officer who spoke on background because the plans are still under development. "You can put the wheels in motion."

Seven years into the war in Afghanistan, President Bush has directed a comprehensive review of US policy there and in neighboring Pakistan, a US ally attempting to confront its own terrorist insurgency. He has demanded an accelerated timetable for an assessment over the next few weeks, prompting some critics to wonder why the hurry now that the Bush administration is drawing to a close.

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