Obama aide: Too soon to say if Afghan plan working

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – It is too soon to gauge results of the revamped U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but its prospects for success should become clear within a year, a top White House official said on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama outlined a strategy in March that includes a troop increase for Afghanistan and more aid for that country and for neighboring Pakistan. He has also replaced the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan.

“With the right metrics and the right benchmarks, I think that we should know within in a year whether this strategy is going to be successful,” White House National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said at a forum at the Atlantic Council, a public policy group.

Asked whether the international community was winning in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jones said, “It’s a little early to tell.”

He added that the U.S. strategy involved much more than military victory.

“It’s not about how many troops you put on the ground,” Jones said. “It’s whether you can achieve security, economic development and governance and the rule of law simultaneously.”

“It’s a three-pronged approach that will serve us well if we do it well. That jury is still out, frankly,” he said.

Jones said he was heartened by the efforts of Pakistan’s military to fight Taliban militants in the Swat Valley and by what he said was a receptiveness to that by the Pakistani public.

“The response by the military so far has the support of the Pakistani people,” Jones said. “The government’s popularity has shot up a little bit in the polls and that is going to have an effect in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged over the past two years, raising doubts about its stability and alarming the United States, which needs Pakistan’s help to defeat al Qaeda and stabilize Afghanistan

In his remarks, Jones also gave a broad defense of Obama’s national security policies.

Though Jones did not mention former Vice President Dick Cheney by name, his comments seemed aimed at countering criticisms from Cheney in recent weeks of the Obama administration’s policies in the fight against terrorism.

“I firmly believe that the United States is not only safe but it will be more secure and the American people are increasingly safer because of the president’s leadership that he’s displayed over the last four months, both at home and abroad,” Jones said.

He cited, among other things, Obama’s efforts to strengthen alliances abroad as helping to bolster U.S. security.

The former Marine commandant and former NATO commander said that “strong, enduring alliances and partnerships do not, in fact, constrain American power and influence but multiply their effect.”

Cheney has criticized Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and his release of Bush-era memos authorizing harsh interrogation tactics against terrorism suspects and said such policies had made the country less safe. (Editing by Paul Simao and Philip Barbara)