WASHINGTON - As concerns grow about the war in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to South Asia on a mission aimed at refining the goals of the nearly 9-year-old conflict.
U.S. lawmakers are increasingly questioning the course of the war. The number of soldiers from the U.S. and other countries in the international coalition in Afghanistan is on the rise. Corruption is a deep problem in Afghanistan, and members of Congress wonder about the utility of massive aid to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Clinton will attend an international conference in Kabul on Tuesday where the Afghan government is expected to outline plans to improve security, reintegrate militants into society and crack down on corruption. She also plans to stop in Pakistan to push greater cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul.
Clinton, who was to leave on Saturday, will meet up later in the week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in South Korea, where tensions with the communist North have risen after the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.
She will finish her trip in Vietnam for discussions with regional leaders. Among the topics will be the upcoming elections in Myanmar.
At the Kabul conference, she will renew Washington's commitment to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, but press him to follow through on reform pledges he made earlier this year.
Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the conference "will be a very important international demonstration of support" for Karzai and his administration.
But Holbrooke acknowledges concerns that the war and the reconstruction effort are not going as hoped or planned.
He told Congress this past week that "there are significant elements of movement forward in many areas, but I do not yet see a definitive turning point in either direction."
Last month was the deadliest of the war for international forces: 103 coalition troops were killed, despite the infusion of tens of thousands of new U.S. troops.
At the same time, international troops working with Afghan forces say they have killed or captured dozens of senior insurgent figures since April as they aggressively step up operations against the Taliban leadership. But those successes haven't slowed the pace of militant attacks, which continue daily, killing dozens of people each month.
The administration has said it will review its Afghan strategy at year's end. The slow progress against the Taliban and the disruptive effects of the firing of the outspoken American commander there last month, have led to a growing unease among many in Congress, including leading members of Obama's own party.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it's not clear that the administration has a solid strategy for prevailing. The committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, decried "a lack of clarity" about U.S. war goals.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said that while there remains "solid support" for the war among Democrats, "there's also the beginnings of fraying of that support."
In the House, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., has put a hold on nearly $4 billion in assistance to Afghanistan, demanding that allegations of corruption be addressed and that the Afghan government be held accountable.