"Anyone who thinks they can weaken our resolve through these cowardly
attacks is severely mistaken," said Pentagon press secretary George
Little, in a hastily called morning press conference. "Our coalition
will emerge from these challenges far stronger and as determined as ever
to provide security for the Afghan people. There is much at stake."
White House spokesman Jay Carney led Monday's briefing by repeating
the administration's war strategy - to "disrupt, dismantle, and
ultimately defeat al-Qaida" and create an Afghan government stable
enough to allow for troop withdrawals. "That strategy very much remains
the right one and remains in place," he said.
President Obama's national-security team was already reexamining its
war plans before this latest conflagration. Under review is the size of
the troop footprint there and the timeline to shift from a combat
mission to a mostly training one, in advance of a NATO heads-of-state
summit in Chicago this May. The White House, Pentagon, and State
Department were beginning a new round of deliberations on the Afghan
strategy this week, The New York Times reported on Monday. Little said those discussions continued and no decisions have been made.
That unwavering stance has critics as well as defenders.
"It is always tempting to ride the headlines ...," Anthony Cordesman,
senior analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and
International Studies, wrote on Monday. "The reality, however, is that
the [counterinsurgency strategy] has been dying for a long time."
"We desperately need to either decide on a workable 'transition'
strategy for the future and then actually fund and implement it, or
develop an honest exit strategy that will do minimal damage to the
Afghan people and our national interest," he argued.
Still, the Pentagon attempted damage control, insisting that in
Kabul, elevated tensions were winding down and joint U.S.-Afghan
missions continue as planned, according to Capt. John Kirby, Defense
Department spokesman, who is on temporary assignment in Kabul.
Speaking via video link with Pentagon reporters, Kirby claimed the
number of protests dropped from 24 nationwide on Saturday to only three
on Monday. Two of those, he claimed, were related to the Koran burning. A
lone protest on Monday, he said, took place without incident.
"Getting 1,000 people to protest is pretty poor, even by rent-a-mob
standards," Michael Rubin, a historian of the region at the conservative
American Enterprise Institute, said of the Kabul demonstrations. Rubin
claims there's evidence protests outside the Afghan capital were incited
by mullahs, while mainstream clerics didn't seem to "call for blood."
Yet, top war commander Gen. John Allen pulled U.S. officials from
Afghan ministries, and other allies followed suit. Kirby claimed the
measure was temporary.