Washington: Amid growing concerns about the war in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to South Asia on a mission aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old conflict.
Clinton`s visit comes with American lawmakers increasingly questioning the course of the war as the death toll of U.S. and international forces rises and also expressing concerns about corruption and the utility of massive assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
She will attend next week`s international conference in Kabul where the Afghan government is expected to outline plans to bolster deteriorating security conditions, reintegrate militants into society and crack down on corruption. She also will stop in Pakistan to push greater cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul.
Clinton, who leaves Saturday, also plans travel to South Korea, where she will meet up with Defense Secretary Robert Gates for talks on dealing with renewed tensions over North Korea after the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the North. She will finish in Vietnam for discussions with regional leaders likely to focus on upcoming elections in Myanmar.
U.S. officials are keeping specific details of her South Asia itinerary secret for security reasons but say she will lead the American delegation to the July 20 Kabul Conference. There she will renew Washington`s commitment to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s government but press him to follow through on reform pledges he made earlier this year.
Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama`s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the conference "will be a very important international demonstration of support" for Karzai and his administration.
But Holbrooke acknowledges concerns that the war and the reconstruction effort are not proceeding as hoped or planned.
He told Congress this week that "there are significant elements of movement forward in many areas, but I do not yet see a definitive turning point in either direction." Last month was the deadliest of the war for international forces, with 103 coalition troops killed, despite the infusion of tens of thousands of new U.S. troops.
At the same time, international troops working with Afghan forces say they have killed or captured dozens of senior insurgent figures since April as they aggressively step up operations against the Taliban leadership. However, those successes haven`t slowed the pace of militant attacks, which continue daily, killing dozens of people each month.
The administration has said it will review its Afghan strategy, which was announced last winter, at the end of this year. But slow progress against the Taliban, plus the disruptive effects of the firing of the outspoken American commander there last month, has stirred a growing unease among many in Congress, including leading members of Obama`s own party.
While many lawmakers have raised concern about Obama`s plan to begin withdrawing U.S. troops next year, some influential members of Congress also have begun to raise serious doubts about the way the war is proceeding, complicating the administration`s effort to maintain support for the endeavor.
On Wednesday, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it`s not clear that the administration has a solid strategy for prevailing, and the panel`s ranking Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana, decried "a lack of clarity" about U.S. war goals.
And Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has said that while there remains "solid support" for the war among Democrats, "there`s also the beginnings of fraying of that support."
In the House, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., has put a hold on nearly $4 billion in assistance to Afghanistan, demanding that allegations of corruption be addressed and that the Afghan government be held accountable.