Gibbs: No surprises in Afghanistan review

The White House said Monday there will be no surprises in an annual report on Afghanistan and Pakistan to be released this week.

President Obama met with his national security team Tuesday to discuss the draft annual review of his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama will address the report Thursday from the White House, but press secretary Robert Gibbs said not to expect any surprises.

The draft report says on the three major aspects of the review — al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Pakistan — the president's strategy is yielding progress while serious challenges remain.

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Nothing in the report will derail either the plan Obama agreed to with NATO in Lisbon, Portugal, last month or the president's strategy that will start the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghanistan in July 2011 with complete combat forces transferring responsibilities in 2014.

When asked if the war is going better than it was a year ago, Gibbs said: “I don't think there's any doubt.”

Reminded that U.S. and NATO casualties are at their highest point, Gibbs pointed to the “sad impact of having more forces to stem the momentum that the Taliban had been making.”

“There's no doubt that we would not be seeing either security or civilian progress were it not for the stemming of that momentum,” Gibbs said.

At Tuesday's meeting in the White House Situation Room, Obama instructed his team to finalize the report. The White House will publicly release a summary of the report, but a second version will be classified.

“I think you will see, as many of you have written and reported, that there has been some important progress in halting the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Gibbs said. “We have seen counterterrorism success at degrading senior al Qaeda leaders. And we've seen greater cooperation over the course of the past 18 months with the Pakistani government.”

Tuesday's meeting came just hours after Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy for the region, died unexpectedly after emergency heart surgery Saturday.

Gibbs said Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed at the top of the meeting the contributions Holbrooke made to the process and to the progress being made in Afghanistan.

“I think our focus over the past almost 24 hours, I think, has been on what he would want us to focus on, and that is continuing to get this policy right,” Gibbs said.

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