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.
"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.