US President Barack Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future and appears inclined to send only as many more US troops as needed to keep Al-Qaeda at bay, a senior administration official, who was unwilling to be identified, said on Thursday.
The sharpened focus by Obama’s team on fighting Al-Qaeda above all other goals, while downgrading the emphasis on the Taliban, comes in the midst of an intensely debated administration review of the increasingly unpopular eight-year-old war.
Though aides stress that the president’s final decision on any changes is still at least two weeks away, the emerging thinking suggests that he would be very unlikely to favour a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal’s troop request is said to include a range of options, from adding as few as 10,000 combat troops to — the general’s strong preference — as many as 40,000.
Obama’s developing strategy on the Taliban will “not tolerate their return to power,” the senior official said in an interview with AP. But the US would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda, the official said.
Bowing to the reality that the Taliban is too ingrained in Afghanistan’s culture to be entirely defeated, the administration is prepared to accept some Taliban role in parts of of that country, the official said. That could mean paving the way for Taliban members willing to renounce violence to participate in a central government.