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US President Has Been Considering Afghanistan Strategy for Months

Mr. Obama's focus on Afghanistan began during the 2008 presidential campaign when he visited the country for the first time

President Obama's decision on a new strategy for Afghanistan was preceded by months of statements, smaller decisions and meetings with his security cabinet
President Obama's decision on a new strategy for Afghanistan was preceded by months of statements, smaller decisions and meetings with his security cabinet
Siri NyropJohn Walker

President Obama's decision on a new strategy for Afghanistan was preceded by months of statements, smaller decisions and meetings with his security cabinet. This timeline, begins with the 2008 presidential election and ends with President Obama's last strategy session before his announcement at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

During the presidential campaign, in July 2008, then Senator Obama visited Afghanistan for the first time. He said he opposes the war in Iraq and favors returning the focus to Afghanistan. He called it the front line in the fight against terrorism.

In January 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States.  He mentioned Afghanistan in his inaugural address.  "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," he stated.

Two days later, President Obama appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In February, the White House released a statement, announcing a troop increase of 17,000 soldiers to stabilize what it called a a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.   

In March, the president announced a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal:  to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved," Mr. Obama said. "That is a cause that could not be more just.  And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same:  We will defeat you."

In May, President Obama hosted Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House.  The meeting coincided with public outrage in Afghanistan over a U.S. airstrike in Farah province that caused many civilian casualties.  

Days later, the Pentagon announced it was replacing General David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and Nato forces in Afghanistan.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said "fresh eyes" and a "new approach" were needed to deal with the worsening situation in Afghanistan.  

In June, General Stanley McChrystal took over as top U.S. and Nato commander in Afghanistan. He ordered a review of the military mission.  He said the war will not be measured by the number of insurgents killed, but by the number of civilians protected from violence.

In August, facing the highest number of monthly U.S. casualties in Afghanistan since 2001, President Obama spoke to America's largest veterans group.  He described the war in Afghanistan as crucial to U.S. national security.

"The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight, and we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice," Mr. Obama said. "This is a war of necessity."  

On August 20, Afghans went to the polls to elect a new president.  Later, reports of widespread fraud raised questions about U.S. support for President Hamid Karzai.

In September, U.S. public opinion polls showed declining support for the war effort in Afghanistan.

U.S. media reported that General McChrystal -- in a confidential memo -- had warned the war will likely end in failure without additional U.S. troops.  Some reports said the general was requesting up to 40,000 more troops.

With the policy review ongoing, media reports in October said President Obama was considering alternatives to just engaging the Taliban -- such as counter insurgency strategies to protect densely populated Afghan areas or concentrating on killing Al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan.

As the review continued, President Karzai reluctantly agreed to a run-off election. Investigators had ruled he received less than the minimum 50 percent required for victory.

But his chief rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah withdrew, stating that a transparent election was not possible.

In November, President Karzai was declared the winner of Afghanistan's presidential election.     

President Obama called on Mr. Karzai to rid his administration of corruption. "I did emphasize to President Karzai that the American people and the international community as a whole want to continue to partner with him and his government in achieving prosperity and security in Afghanistan, but I emphasize that this has to be a point in time in which we begin to write a new chapter," Mr. Obama said.

In the final days of November, President Obama held his last session on Afghanistan strategy in the White House Situation Room. The president said he would announce his decision on December 1st. 

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