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Obama to Discuss Iraq, Afghanistan Wednesday


President Obama meets with his national security team, including top military officers, Wednesday to begin to chart a new U.S. policy toward Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a presidential candidate, several times Mr. Obama said something like this comment he made in July about the war in Iraq.

"Let me be as clear as I can be. I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the joint chiefs of staff in and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war, responsibly and deliberately, but decisively," said Mr. Obama.

Now that the day is here, officials say he will not exactly meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the heads of the four U.S. military branches - but he will meet with their chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, and with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and key combat commanders, along with other members of the new national security team. The new president gave a hint of his plans during his Inaugural Address on Tuesday.

"We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," said Mr. Obama.

During the campaign, he was more specific about his Iraq plans, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops within 16 months. That plan worried many military commanders during the campaign, and they still call the situation in Iraq "fragile."

But with the progress made during the last year and a half in Iraq, they say something like 16 months might be possible, without risking a reversal of the security gains. And President Obama has said he will listen to the military commanders before making any final decisions.

"In putting this plan together, I will always listen to the advice of commanders on the ground, but that ultimately I am the person who is making the strategic decisions," he said.

Mr. Obama has also said he plans to leave behind enough troops in Iraq to hunt terrorists and train the country's security forces. But there is now a U.S.-Iraq agreement to have all U.S. troops out, combat troops and support units, in three years.

As he plans to move as quickly as possible with an Iraq withdrawal, President Obama also plans to follow through with former President Bush's plan to nearly double the U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan. And in his inaugural speech, the new president indicated he will also continue what Bush called the Global War on Terrorism.

"We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you," said Mr. Obama.

But the Inaugural Address is more of a blueprint than a detailed design. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, who like his boss Secretary Gates is staying on in the new administration, said last week the details of President Obama's approach are still to be worked out.

"What ultimately is the strategy that the president-elect and his team wish to pursue is something that is still under discussion and likely will be for some time once they take office," he said.

That process begins in earnest at the promised first-day meeting on Wednesday.

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