Afghanistan : 30,000 troops from Obama, increased pressure on NATO for a “Rumsfield extension”

  • Obama decides : 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan
  • Obama wants : 5,000 to 10,000 additional troops from NATO allies
  • Obama accepts : deteriorating military environment, but “Afghanistan is not lost.”
  • Pentagon sources : 849 Americans killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Uzbekistan, in past 08 years.
  • New build up : cost for first year alone is US $ 30 billion
  • New Gallup poll : 55 % Americans think Obama handles war badly

Declaring “our security is at stake,” President Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan Tuesday night, nearly tripling the force he inherited as commander in chief. He promised an impatient public he would begin bringing units home in 18 months.

The buildup to about 100,000 troops will begin almost immediately — the first Marines will be in place by Christmas — and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone.

In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president told the nation his new policy was designed to “bring this war to a successful conclusion,” though he made no mention of defeating Taliban insurgents or capturing al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

“We must deny al-Qaeda a safe haven,” Obama said in spelling out U.S. military goals for a war that has dragged on for eight years. “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum. … And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government.”

The president said the additional forces would be deployed at “the fastest pace possible so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.”

Their destination: “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda.”

“It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak,” the president said.

When he became president last January, there were about 34,000 troops on the ground; there now are 71,000.

Obama’s announcement drew less-wholehearted support from congressional Democrats. Many of them favor a quick withdrawal, but others have already proposed higher taxes to pay for the fighting.

Republicans reacted warily, as well. Officials said Sen. John McCain, who was Obama’s Republican opponent in last year’s presidential campaign, told Obama at an early evening meeting attended by numerous lawmakers that declaring a timetable for a withdrawal would merely send the Taliban underground until the Americans began to leave.

A new survey by the Gallup organization, released Tuesday, showed only 35 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s handling of the war; 55 percent disapprove.

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home,” he said flatly.

In eight years of war, 849 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Uzbekistan, according to the Pentagon.

In addition to beefing up the U.S. presence, Obama has asked NATO allies to commit between 5,000 and 10,000 additional troops. NATO allies and other countries currently have about 40,000 troops on the ground.

As for neighboring Pakistan, the president said that country and the United States “share a common enemy” in Islamic terrorists. “We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”

The speech was still under way when General McChrystal issued a statement Wednesday morning from Kabul. “The Afghanistan-Pakistan review led by the president has provided me with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task,” it said.

“Our Afghan partners need the support of Coalition forces while we grow and develop the capacity of the Afghan army and police, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the statement added. “That will be the main focus of our campaign in the months ahead.”

McChrystal is expected to testify before congressional committees in the next several days.

Obama referred to a deteriorating military environment, but said, “Afghanistan is not lost.”

Officials said the additional 30,000 troops included about 5,000 dedicated trainers, underscoring the president’s emphasis on preparing Afghans to take over their own security.

These aides said that by announcing a date for beginning a withdrawal, the president was not setting an end date for the war.

But that was a point on which McCain chose to engage the president at a pre-speech meeting with lawmakers before Obama departed for West Point. “The way that you win wars is to break the enemy’s will, not to announce dates that you are leaving,” McCain said later.

Obama’s address represents the beginning of a sales job to restore support for the war effort among an American public grown increasingly pessimistic about success — and among some fellow Democrats in Congress wary of or even opposed to spending billions more dollars and putting tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.

American military officials believe that more NATO troops will buy it time to grow the number of Afghan security forces able to hold their own against insurgents.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already asked France for an additional 1,500 troops to add to the 3,750 already in the country.

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom announced it was adding 500 soldiers to its contingent.

With Canada’s army already stretched to the limit, the pressure on Ottawa will be to extend its existing commitments beyond the scheduled 2011 end to the military mission. NATO just expanded Canada’s area of responsibility, placing American and Afghan troops based in the Arghandab district, North of Kandahar city, under Canadian command.

And while Canada is slated to begin a military pullout in 2011, some say it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Obama’s plan could influence the popular perception of the Afghan mission in Canada.

“I would suggest that if Obama had a strategy that Canadians would be at ease with, it’s not inconceivable the government would change its direction,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Terry Liston, a former chief of planning and development with the Canadian Armed Forces.

With insufficient force levels, Obama would be hard-pressed to distinguish his military approach from his predecessor, George W. Bush, who focused on the counter-terrorism dimension.

“The extent that it seems to be a continuation of the Rumsfield (former U.S. secretary of defence Donald Rumsfield) approach, it’s not going to cause a rethink in Canada,” Liston said.

Edited from news reports


Darlene Superville & Steven Hurst

The Associated Press- NY


Jonathan Montpetit (CP) – Kandahar, Afghanistan —


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