12/15/2010 02:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Progress In Afghanistan Clouded By Conflicting Reports

The White House is set to release the latest review of President Obama's war strategy in Afghanistan, the results of which, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, will "not surprise" anyone. You may recall, last time a lengthy release of information about the war was made public only to be greeted by a collective yawn from members of the media who said there was "nothing new" -- it was from WikiLeaks, and what wasn't "new" was that everyone in the press had decided a long time ago that the war wasn't going well, ho hum.

Except this time, the not-surprising report, which is scheduled for release on Thursday, is supposed to be optimistic:

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the results will "not surprise" anyone following the issue; he said that the review "will show that our transition can and should begin . . . in July 2011," when Obama has pledged to begin a conditions-based drawdown of what are now 100,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The withdrawal of both U.S. and NATO combat forces is to be completed by the end of 2014.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity about the largely classified document, described it as "diagnostic" rather than "prescriptive," outlining areas in which goals are being met as well as those where "things aren't working so well." The assessment is designed to set the agenda for decision-making in the spring, the official said.

By "decision-making in the spring," they mean to point to the beginnings of withdrawal from Afghanistan -- the Guardian reports that it could be to the tune of 20,000 troops coming home. But what is the official diagnosis? The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill sums it up succinctly:

The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the report would show progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban, damage to the al-Qaida leadership and greater co-operation from the Pakistan government. But there is still concern over the reliability of the Afghan government and safe havens in Pakistan.

To put that in perspective, that's like saying that the "stockings are hung by the chimney with care" and the "children are nestled all snug in their beds," but the Christmas tree has caught fire and the whole house is aflame.

MacAskill goes on to report that a second study, conducted by intelligence services will present a "more sober assessment, saying that the chance of success is limited unless Pakistan tackles the safe havens for the Taliban along the Pakistan side of the border." The Pentagon insists that the intelligence services are flawed in their estimation because they "failed to take account of successes over the last few months following the troop reinforcements." But unless I'm mistaken, both reports include a downcast assessment of our ability to deny the Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.

Anyway, we remind you that anyone saying "stop this war" is just engaging in "painful banter" and not making a "serious exhortation about policy."

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