WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama, vowing to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, promised he would soon announce his decision on sending tens of thousands more US troops to battle Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Obama said he would make an announcement after Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, spelling out the “obligations” of US allies and making clear that “the Afghan people ultimately are going to have to provide for their own security.
“After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job,” he said after talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Aides declined to comment on reports Obama would use a prime-time speech next Tuesday to unveil plans to try to turn the worsening conflict around by sending some 34,000 more US soldiers to fight the insurgents.
“We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan’s stability is important to that process,” Obama promised.
Obama faces a US public sharply divided on the war and calls from some Democratic allies to set a flexible timetable for withdrawal eight years after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive,” he predicted.
Obama also said “the whole world” had a responsibility to help the US-led mission in Afghanistan, and that his announcement would detail “the obligations of our international partners.”
After months of deliberations, under fire from Republican foes for “dithering” on a decision, Obama held his ninth and final strategy session with top commanders and national security aides for two hours late Monday.
The president has been weighing requests from his Afghan war commander, General Stanley McChrystal, to send up to 40,000 more troops to join the 68,000 US troops already there.
Other officials, including the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, have warned against ramping up troop levels until the government in Kabul clamps down on rampant corruption and improves delivery of key services.
The Pentagon said Tuesday it expected reluctant NATO allies to stump up more troops if Obama decides to order reinforcements.
“Clearly if the president decides to commit additional forces to Afghanistan, there would be an expectation that our allies would also commit additional forces,” press secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference.
NATO allies, whose contributions bring foreign forces in Afghanistan to about 110,000, are due to take up the question of sending more troops at upcoming gatherings of the military alliance December 3-4 and on December 7.
However, a NATO military commander warned that “European countries are not going to send many real reinforcements.”
The officer added: “They could keep troops — several thousand at most — that were sent on a temporary basis to provide security around the Afghan presidential election” held in August.
That disputed contest ultimately resulted in another five-year term for embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has drawn intense US pressure to battle corruption in government.
The top US military commander, Admiral Michael Mullen, warned in September that he considered the Afghan government’s credibility problems at home to be a menace “equal to the threat from the Taliban.”
As resurgent Islamist fighters made 2009 the deadliest year for US and allied forces in Afghanistan, a new opinion poll released by CNN showed that roughly half of Americans support sending tens of thousands more troops, while just 45 percent say they are in favor of the war.
Obama also faces pressure in the US Congress from Democratic allies who see the war’s cost as sucking hundreds of billions from much-needed projects at home.
A few senior Democratic lawmakers have proposed creating a special tax, chiefly on high-income earners, to pay for the war, while one Democratic senator, Russell Feingold, has pushed for a flexible withdrawal timetable.
Some fret privately that Obama’s time in office could be defined by a decision to escalate the conflict, as the Vietnam War ultimately ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.
A CNN poll Tuesday found Americans deeply divided about deploying more US troops to Afghanistan, with 50 percent in favor of sending tens of thousands more troops and 49 percent against.