The United States met NATO allies on Monday to outline its policy review for Afghanistan after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development.
With violence rising ahead of elections in August, Obama has already committed an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, but on Sunday he said military force alone would not end the war.
What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems, he said in an interview with CBS TV's 60 minutes.
So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's got to be an exit strategy ... There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.
The interview gave a taste of what to expect in the results of a comprehensive policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan expected soon. Officials have already said the review would include more coordination with other stakeholders than practiced by the Bush administration.
In Brussels, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Monday before briefing the 26 alliance ambassadors.
It is to give the broad lines of the U.S. strategy review as it now stands, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
I don't know that they've arrived at any final conclusions on which President Obama has signed off on, but their thinking is now very close to the conclusion of the process.
Appathurai said he was not aware of a plan, reported in Britain's Guardian newspaper, for Washington and its allies to create an Afghan chief executive or prime minister to bypass President Hamid Karzai, widely seen as ineffective by the West.
In Kabul, Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzadeh said: I would characterize this as nonsense ... Introducing a prime minister in a country in which there is a constitution which says there is a presidential system is simply impossible.
Some analysts say Washington is going to have to engage in dialogue with Taliban elements, a point Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have conceded recently.
However, in Afghanistan itself other experts have suggested that idea is a non-starter.
And Taliban-led insurgents such as the Haqqani network, which has admitted carrying out some of the most deadly attacks on civilians and foreign troops in Afghanistan, dismiss the dialogue proposals as a trick to weaken and divide militants.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday Sirajuddin Haqqani said all Taliban were the same and no parts of the movement would be willing to engage with Washington or Kabul.
Washington also has to weigh the competing interests of India and Pakistan.
India has been wary of any political accommodation with the Taliban, close allies of Pakistan before they were toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Pakistan in turn has resented growing Indian influence in Afghanistan which it sees as an attempt by its much larger neighbor to put pressure on it from both east and west.
Obama has said the United States and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan, and ordered the deployment of 17,000 additional troops on top of the 38,000 already serving there to help subdue a resurgent Taliban and stabilize the country.
Other countries have about 30,000 soldiers helping the Kabul government under NATO and U.S. command, but have mostly been reluctant to commit more forces.
NATO-led forces deployed in southern and eastern Afghan province bordering Pakistan are overstretched and many of the new U.S. troops will be sent to these areas to reinforce efforts to stem insurgent activity on the porous Afghan-Pakistan border.
On Monday, eight policemen were killed by Taliban insurgents while they were on patrol in southern Kandahar province in a district just inside the Afghan border with Pakistan, the Interior Ministry said.
Obama said the destabilizing border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was a big military challenge. Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out there using the remote region as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan.
This is going to be a tough nut to crack. But it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot, he said.
U.S. envoy Holbrooke told a Brussels conference at the weekend Obama's administration was also looking at a very significant increase in the size of the Afghan police force.
Holbrooke said Washington wanted increased focus on alternative livelihoods to opium farming, which helps fuel the insurgency, and that he would seek very significantly expanded funding for agriculture sector job creation.
Among the U.S. ideas are increased focus on counter-terrorism and the training of Afghan forces, a focused counter-insurgency push in the violent south and east and pursuit of a wider campaign to protect civilians.
Hundreds of civilian officials from across the U.S. government would be sent to Afghanistan as part of the new strategy in a sort of civilian surge.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Kamaal Sadaat, Jon Hemming and Golnar Motevalli in KABUL; Elyas Wahdat in KHOST; Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; and Myra MacDonald in LONDON; Writing by David Fox and Jerry Norton; Editing by Paul Tait)