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October 5, 2010

(This article is re-posted from Common Dreams.)

US President Barack Obama has told lawmakers that no current changes are needed to his Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, as US forces escalate operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Obama delivered the verdict, which had previously been voiced by senior members of his national security staff, as he handed over his administration’s latest classified report on the conduct of the war mandated by Congress.

“We are continuing to implement the policy as described in December and do not believe further adjustments are required at this time,” Obama wrote in the assessment, delivered Monday.

“As the Congress continues its deliberations on the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I want to continue to underscore our nation’s interests in the successful implementation of this policy.”

At the end of an exhaustive policy review in December, Obama announced plans to surge 30,000 troops into Afghanistan to seize the momentum in the long-running war but warned some soldiers would begin to withdraw by July 2011.

The president is expected to mount a fresh review of strategy on Afghanistan by the end of the year, but again, no major adjustments are expected.

The NATO-led strategy is designed to push Taliban insurgents out of major towns in the south and east while building up Afghan government security forces so that American troops can start withdrawing by July 2011.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top commanders say there are tentative signs of progress in Afghanistan, where nearly 150,000 US and allied troops are trying to turn the tide against a resilient Islamist insurgency.

The White House said late Monday that Obama held a 30-minute videoconference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, discussing “a number of topics, including the strategic vision for long term U.S.-Afghan relations, the recent Afghan parliamentary elections, and regional relations.”

“The two leaders agreed that they should continue routine engagements to refine a common vision and to align our efforts to support President Karzai’s goal of completing transition to Afghan lead security responsibility by 2014,” the White House said.

Obama released his report Monday amid fresh evidence of an escalation of US activity in the lawless region between Pakistan and Afghanistan

A US drone strike on Monday killed eight militants, including German nationals in Pakistan near the Afghan border, local security officials said.

The attack came hours after Japan and Sweden joined Washington and London in issuing an alert warning of a “possible terrorist attack” by Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups against their citizens traveling in Europe.

Fresh bombings, shootings and violence meanwhile underscored the heavy toll on US and allied forces, as five NATO soldiers died Monday.

The new deaths took to 561 the number of foreign troops killed in the Afghan war so far in 2010, according to a tally by independent website, as the toll from the nine-year Taliban-led insurgency worsens.

This year’s toll is the highest on record since the war began in late 2001 with a US-led invasion toppling the Taliban regime after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders following the September 11 attacks.

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