Obama to send more troops, seek Afghan exit
West Point (US), December 2, 2009
President Barack Obama has said he is ordering 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan by next summer to counter a resurgent Taliban and plans to begin a troop withdrawal in 18 months.
The goal, Obama said in a prime-time televised address, is to speed the battle against Taliban insurgents, secure key population centers and train Afghan security forces so they can take over and clear the way for a US exit.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, called Obama's approach "shock therapy for Afghanistan."
"It is a bold approach and there is no guarantee of success," he said. "Wars tend to consume presidencies and this is now Obama's war."
The accelerated timetable that Obama unveiled, after a three-month strategy review, surprised some Pentagon planners who had expected a 12- to 18-month period for deploying forces to bolster the 68,000 US troops already in the war zone.
"As commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," Obama said.
His exit strategy appeared to be an attempt not only to sell his shift in strategy to war-weary Americans but also to put pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to fight corruption in his government.
Under his 2011 timeframe, US troops would begin returning home before Obama's expected re-election bid in 2012.
'Blank check' days are over
In a 34-minute address, Obama recalled the spirit of unity among Americans after the September 11 attacks on the US by al Qaeda in 2001 and warned that the militants were plotting fresh attacks.
"I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan," he told cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Republicans zeroed in on Obama's vow that some troops will start coming home in 2011, saying it sent the wrong signal.
"A withdrawal date only emboldens al Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight," Senator John McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.
Obama defended his decision and promised any pullout would be done responsibly.
"The absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government," he said.
Obama's review was slowed by uncertainty that surrounded Karzai's re-election. The vote in August was marred by fraud and cast a fresh cloud over Karzai, who has been unable to provide security and basic services to many of Afghanistan's 28 million people.
Obama briefed Karzai by secure video hookup on Monday night to outline the plan. In his speech and a White House statement, he made clear Karzai is expected to take on corruption and has 18 to 24 months to make progress.
"This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over," Obama said.
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the July 2011 deadline sent an important signal around the world.
"I think that was a deadline to send to our allies that we are not asking for open-ended commitments and to send a warning to the Afghans and the Pakistanis that they have to make a serious effort," he said.
More Nato troops
Major US troop movements from the new deployment are likely to begin in January and all 30,000 troops should be in place by the end of August, defense officials said.
The vanguard of the US buildup is expected to be the swift deployment of 9,000 Marines into some of the most dangerous parts of the country -- Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar and Helmand.
The head of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said after Obama's speech that he expected "at least 5,000 more forces from other countries in our alliance and possibly a few thousand more."
Beyond the US, members of the alliance now have about 42,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. – Reuters