WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama ends three months of exacting deliberations Tuesday to outline his new Afghan strategy, 30,000 additional U.S. troops to beat back an emboldened Taliban insurgency and train local government troops, The Associated Press has learned.
In what may be the defining speech of his presidency and a gamble that could weigh heavily on Obama’s chances for a second White House term, the president will address the country in a televised speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Obama hopes to restore support for the war effort among an American public grown increasingly pessimistic about success and some fellow Democrats in Congress wary of, or even outright opposed to, spending billions more taxpayer dollars and putting tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.
A senior administration official said Obama would inject the additional 30,000 troops on an accelerated schedule, bringing the total in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 U.S. by summer. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the details had not yet been announced.
At the same time, NATO diplomats said Obama was asking alliance partners in Europe for between 5,000 and 10,000 additional troops to the separate international force in Afghanistan. It remained uncertain what response that request would meet, given the Afghan war has even less support in Europe than in the United States, where backing for the 8-year-old conflict has plummeted since Obama took office in January.
One official from a European nation said the troop figure was included in an official NATO document compiled on the basis of information received from Washington ahead of Obama’s announcement. The NATO force in Afghanistan now stands at about 40,000 troops.
The main mission of the new troops will be to reverse Taliban gains and secure population centers in the country’s volatile south and east. The quick addition of Marines, some expected to be in place by Christmas, would provide badly needed reinforcements to those fighting against Taliban gains in southern Helmand province. All of the new troops are expected to be deployed by next summer, the administration official said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on ABC television that Obama would lay out an end-game scenario for U.S. involvement.
“We want to, as quickly as possible, transition the security of the Afghan people over to those national security forces in Afghanistan,” Gibbs said Tuesday. “This can’t be nation-building. It can’t be an open-ended forever commitment.”
Obama planned to brief dozens of key lawmakers Tuesday afternoon, before setting off for West Point.
Early Tuesday, the president spent an hour on a video conference call with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before contacting Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari. They are the two leaders on whom the success of the plan may depend the most.
Karzai’s office said the two leaders discussed in detail the security, political, military and economic aspects of the strategy. His office didn’t provide further details, but a close confidant of Karzai’s who was with the president following the call said Karzai was happy with the conversation. The confidant spoke anonymously because it was a private discussion.
The United States went to war in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States.
Osama bin Laden, leader of the group, and key members of the terrorist organization were headquartered in Afghanistan at the time, taking advantage of sanctuary afforded by the Taliban government that ran the mountainous and isolated country.
Taliban forces were quickly driven from power, while bin Laden and his top deputies were believed to have fled through towering mountains into neighboring Pakistan. While the al-Qaida leadership appears to be bottled up in Pakistan’s largely ungoverned tribal regions, the U.S. military strategy of targeted missile attacks from unmanned drone aircraft has yet to flush bin Laden and his cohorts from hiding. That, the administration argues, means the U.S. must continue fighting to prevent the Taliban from regaining control and reopening the country to Al Qaeda. The escalation of U.S. forces over the coming year would come at an annual cost of about $75 billion. With the war now in its ninth year, rampant government corruption and inefficiency in Karzai’s government have stunted U.S. efforts. Obama was expected to place tough conditions on the Afghan leader and accelerate training Afghan armed forces. The plan would expand the Afghan army to 134,000 troops by next autumn, three years earlier than once envisioned.
Obama spent much of the time leading up to Tuesday’s speech on the phone, outlining his plan for the leaders of France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, India, Denmark, Poland and others. He also met in person Monday at the White House with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who said his country will stand by the U.S. “for the long haul” in Afghanistan.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday announced that 500 extra U.K. troops would arrive in southern Afghanistan next month.
Britain has taken the lead in lobbying for extra reinforcements for the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Last week, Brown said that NATO nations, not including the U.S., are prepared to offer about 5,000 more troops for Afghanistan. So far, Slovakia has offered 250 extra soldiers, Georgia has pledged between 700 and 1,000 soldiers, and South Korea has said it would send “several hundred’ to protect its reconstruction teams. Right now, there are about 71,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. NATO and other allies collectively have an additional 36,000 troops in the country. The war has turned worse this year despite Obama’s previous infusion of 21,000 U.S. troops since he took office in January.