Members of a U.S. Central Command-led team charged with undertaking a comprehensive review of the command's strategy were scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan late last week to hear from military personnel and diplomats about the situation on the ground there, we're told.
A CENTCOM spokeswoman today declined to confirm or deny plans for the trip, citing security reasons. Officials are keeping a tight lid on the details surrounding the group so members can conduct a "fair and impartial" assessment, said Air Force Maj. Tina Barber-Matthew.
The assessment, led by CENTCOM deputy commander Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, is slated to produce a report for command chief Gen. David Petraus by February, she added.
Meanwhile, officials from United Kingdom are lending a helping hand in the effort, records show.
British Member of Parliament Keith Simpson recently asked government officials about what exactly his country's involvement is in the drill, according to a Nov. 26 edition of the "Hansard" parliamentary transcript service, which is available online.
Gillian Merron, a parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Foreign Office, told Simpson this:
US General David Petraeus established a Central Command (CENTCOM) Assessment Team (CAT) which began on 4 November and is due to conclude in February 2009. Its aim is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the CENTCOM area of operations -- which spans the greater Middle East and parts of Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The UK was asked to contribute to the review of American defence and security policy during September 2008. Participation in the review is part of the important bilateral relationship with the US. Some costs are being met by CENTCOM while other costs, including salary, will be covered by individual departments. We will write to the hon. Member separately with details. The UK is a key partner in the ongoing international coalition aiming to bring security and stability to this area. The CAT is an integral part of this effort and the UK therefore has a responsibility to participate.
The UK team is drawn from a range of thematic and geographical experience with two personnel from the ((Foreign and Commonwealth Office)), one person from ((the Department for International Development)) and 14 personnel from the ((Ministry of Defence)) and military. The FCO does not routinely release the names of individuals. The UK team began work in the CAT on 4 November following preparation in Whitehall within the policy and research community.
The UK objective for participation is to share our views, and learn those of others, across a very broad spectrum of issues concerning the provision of security, the rule of law and other issues of current global concern. The UK will contribute to a wide discussion and will not publish their contribution separately.
Bill Rammell, minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs in the Foreign Office, wrote this:
The US-led Central Command (CENTCOM) Assessment Team (CAT) will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the CENTCOM area of operations, drawing on US interagency and international partner expertise. The US has invited the UK and other nations to participate. The assessment will include visits by members of the CAT, including UK team members, to Afghanistan for consultation with the Government of Afghanistan and its officials.
Barber-Matthew, the CENTCOM spokeswoman, declined to identify additional countries participating in the assessment.
-- Sebastian Sprenger