U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan by the summer of 2010, and plans to start withdrawing American forces a year later. The president laid out his strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan.
After several months of deliberation, President Obama has announced his plan for deploying additional troops to Afghanistan. He unveiled his strategy before an audience of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, late Tuesday and a nation watching on television.
"The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers," said President Obama.
The added troops will join an estimated 68,000 U.S. service members already in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of allied forces.
The president spoke as Americans' support for the war continues to erode. A new survey by the Gallup organization shows only 35 percent of Americans surveyed approve of Mr. Obama's handling of the war - 55 percent disapprove.
At West Point, Mr. Obama said Afghanistan is not lost, but has been moving backwards for several years. He said al-Qaida is planning new acts of terror from its safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, with the support of the Taliban.
"We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven," said Mr. Obama. " We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
The president appealed to America's allies to contribute more troops to the fight in Afghanistan, and said he is confident that they will.
"Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan," said President Obama. "Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world."
Mr. Obama said his strategy will allow U.S. troops to begin returning home by the middle of 2011, depending on the conditions on the ground.
"Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," said Mr. Obama.
The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said after the speech he supports the president's plan, as long as the withdrawal does not begin until conditions in Afghanistan permit it.
"The president was absolutely right to call for building a sufficient Afghan capacity that will allow our troops to come home, rather than setting a hard withdrawal date that is not based on conditions on the ground or the advice of our generals," said Mitch McConnell.
A large part of the troops' mission will be to train Afghan forces to take over the fight against the Taliban and defend their country's security.
With most of the Taliban now in Pakistan, the president emphasized the need for a continued partnership with the government in Islamabad.
Civilian initiatives will be a large part of the U.S. strategy, especially in developing the region's agriculture, education and economy. Mr. Obama also said the U.S. will require improved performance from the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We will work with our partners, the UN and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security," said President Obama. "This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over."
The president acknowledged that his new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost the U.S. $30 billion in the coming year, and he said he will work closely with Congress to address that cost, while trying to revive the recession-battered economy.
Over the past few months, Mr. Obama has held about a dozen meetings with his top military and foreign policy advisers, including commanders on the ground in Afghanistan.