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Senators grill Petraeus on new Afghanistan strategy

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“While additional military forces clearly are necessary in Afghanistan, they will not by themselves be sufficient to achieve our objectives,” said Petraeus. “It is important that the civilian requirements for Afghanistan and Pakistan be fully met as well.”

A bigger Afghan force sought

Besides the added US forces, Obama’s new strategy relies on a “surge” of civilian expertise and a more defined focus on defeating extremism in the region. It also calls for a larger Afghan army – widely seen as a crucial ingredient to success in Afghanistan – but does not prescribe a specific size for the army or police.

The Afghan army is expected to grow from 90,000 to 134,000 by the end of 2011. The police force is close to reaching its 82,000 target, but many officers need retraining and, perhaps, replacement. The size of both forces should total about 400,000 in the next several years, some experts and lawmakers say.

“We know that [a larger force] was a vital element to our success in Iraq, and to dribble out these decisions, I think, can create the impression of incrementalism,” Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona told Petraeus and other administration officials at Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator McCain makes a good point but should temper his criticism, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“The word ‘incremental’ is a bit too harsh, but [McCain’s] overall points, especially about the Afghan forces, are still generally correct,” he says. “Then again, so is the general thrust of Obama’s policies – even if the goals aren’t yet ambitious enough.”

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