President Barack Obama is to unveil a new U.S. plan for winning the eight-year war in Afghanistan Tuesday. Senior White House officials say the president will announce an expedited deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan while, at the same time, setting a date to begin a drawdown of American forces.
As a candidate and as president, Barack Obama has described Afghanistan as the war the United States cannot afford to lose. After months of deliberations, Mr. Obama will unveil his strategy for victory in a nationally-televised address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Observers see the speech as one of the most consequential of his young presidency.
Senior U.S. officials say the long-awaited plan entails the swift deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next 6-8 months, bringing the total number of U.S. forces to just under 100,000. The immediate aim will be to degrade militant extremists' capabilities while building up Afghan security forces who will assume greater responsibility for safeguarding their nation.
Other countries taking part in the multinational effort in Afghanistan are also expected to bolster their forces, with a NATO announcement expected in the coming days.
A senior U.S. official says the United States will begin to draw down U.S. troop levels in July, 2011, but stresses that no deadline has been set for a complete withdrawal.
Key to the strategy is a crackdown on rampant corruption in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama is expected to set goals for good governance in the country, while also boosting U.S. developmental aid, particularly in agriculture.
The president has repeatedly stated his intention to "finish the job" in Afghanistan. But many Republicans have accused Mr. Obama of needless delay in reviewing the U.S. mission, including former vice president Dick Cheney. In an interview with Politico-dot-com posted Monday, Cheney suggested the administration's focus on an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan projects "weakness" and emboldens militant extremists in the country.
That charge was firmly rejected by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" program. "The number of men and women in our armed forces right now sitting in Afghanistan is twice the number that was there when the president took office in January. We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of the American people by taking on al-Qaida and its extremist allies," he said.
Militant extremists also pose a threat to neighboring Pakistan. Senior U.S. officials say President Obama will stress the need for a sustained focus on terrorist elements in Pakistan, and to help Pakistanis stabilize their country politically, economically and in security matters.
President Obama has repeatedly accused the former Bush administration of neglecting Afghanistan in order to focus on another conflict, the war in Iraq. Analysts say whatever may have occurred in Afghanistan before Mr. Obama entered office, with his new strategy he is effectively taking ownership of the Afghan war and responsibility for its outcome.