Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama to Announce Major Troop Deployment to Escalate Afghanistan War

November 30, 2009

Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan to Envision Exit

New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday.

Although the speech was still in draft form, the officials said the president wanted to use the address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday night not only to announce the immediate order to deploy roughly 30,000 more troops, but also to convey how he intends to turn the fight over to the Kabul government.

“It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

Officials of one allied nation who have been extensively briefed on the president’s plan said, however, that Mr. Obama would describe how the American presence would be ratcheted back after the buildup, while making clear that a significant American presence in Afghanistan would remain for a long while. That is designed in part to signal to Pakistan that the United States will not abandon the region and to allay Pakistani fears that India will fill the vacuum created as America pulls back.

Some leading members of Congress talked publicly Sunday about their hope that the president would explain an endgame for American involvement in the eight-year war that includes how Afghans will assume more of their security needs.

But more hawkish Republicans cautioned that setting a deadline for withdrawal could signal a lack of resolve to allies, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Talk of an exit strategy is exactly the wrong way to go,” said Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican. “I certainly hope the president doesn’t do that, because all that does is signal to the enemies and also to our allies, to the folks in Pakistan as well as the Afghanis, that we’re not there to stay until the mission is accomplished.” He spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”

Senior lawmakers also warned the White House on Sunday that its expected troop buildup in Afghanistan would fail unless the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan did more to combat militants attacking American forces, a concern that administration officials concede is a major vulnerability in President Obama’s new war strategy.

“The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge,” Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And if the president lays out the case for why our combat forces that are going particularly to the south will increase the speed-up of the Afghan Army, it seems to me that that would be very, very important.”

With the cost of the war rising, some Democrats have even talked of a surtax. And a Republican senator, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, asked: “If we were talking about several years of time, how many more years beyond that? What is the capacity of our country to finance this particular type of situation as opposed to other ways of fighting Al Qaeda and the war against terror?”

At West Point, Mr. Obama was expected to describe commitments from Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, and specific benchmarks his government must meet: to crack down on corruption, deploy well-trained Afghan troops and police officers, and focus on development in one of the world’s poorest nations. Mr. Obama was expected to be far less specific about Pakistan, where Taliban leaders are commanding operations across the border against American forces, and where Al Qaeda’s central leadership still lives.

“We agree that no matter how many troops you send, if the safe haven in Pakistan isn’t cracked, the whole mission is compromised,” said one official who has participated in the debate over the strategy. “But if you make too many demands on the Pakistanis in public, it can backfire.”

The problems in Afghanistan have only been compounded by the fragility of Mr. Obama’s partner in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari, who is so weak that his government seems near collapse. On Friday, Mr. Zardari relinquished his position in Pakistan’s nuclear command structure, turning it over to the prime minister, in what appeared to be an effort to avoid impeachment or prosecution, and retain at least a figurehead post.

On Sunday, one of the Obama administration’s staunchest allies, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, joined in the campaign to press Pakistan to step up attacks on Al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan’s unruly tribal areas and other militant groups there. “People are going to ask why, eight years after 2001, Osama bin Laden has never been near to being caught,” Mr. Brown told Sky News, “and what can the Pakistan authorities do that is far more effective.”

White House officials have said relatively little about the Pakistan side of the administration’s evolving war strategy, in part because they have so few options and so little leverage. They cannot send troops into Pakistan, and they cannot talk publicly about one of their most effective measures, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Predator drone strikes in the country.

“Everyone understands this is a complex, nuanced, critical relationship,” said a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Mr. Obama’s review had not been announced. “Everyone has their eyes open, and there are genuine concerns. But one focus now is on trying to expand cooperation. The Pakistanis are doing some positive things in the tribal areas. That presents opportunities on which to build.”

Mr. Obama’s advisers previously signaled that the president wanted to outline, as he had before, expectations for the Afghan government. This time, they said, the goals would be more explicit and demanding, aimed at improving governance and curbing corruption.

But the advisers have been debating whether to put deadlines on those benchmarks, like the pace of training Afghan security forces to defend their country.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO and American commander in Afghanistan, is expected to testify about Mr. Obama’s new strategy on Dec. 8 to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees in Washington, the official said. His appearance is expected to follow Congressional testimony later this week by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The administration has sought to build consensus among crucial allies to reach this point. In the last two weeks, Mr. Obama dispatched two top aides to Pakistan to deliver the same message: Keep the pressure on.

In separate visits to Islamabad, the capital, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, and the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, told Pakistani officials that no matter how many more troops the president sent to Afghanistan, the effort would fail unless Pakistan increased strikes against Al Qaeda’s leadership and Mullah Muhammad Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta, and the Haqqani network, militants operating out of North Waziristan who have attacked Afghan and NATO targets in eastern Afghanistan and Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington, and Sabrina Tavernise from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Sunday, November 29, 2009
17:51 Mecca time, 14:51 GMT

Deaths in Afghan air raid

The US and Nato currently have more than 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan

More than two dozen suspected Taliban fighters have been killed in a Nato-led air attack in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, police say.

"The Taliban attacked one of our posts last night [Saturday]. Police launched a counter-attack backed with coalition air support," Sher Ahmad Kochi, a border police official in Khost, said.

The privately owned Tolo TV station said 26 fighters were killed, including one fighter from Chechnya.

A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in the Afghan capital of Kabul confirmed an air raid was carried out by foreign troops in Khost.

"Afghan forces came under attack and asked for assistance and we provided it in the form of air support," the spokesman said, declining to give any details of casualties.

The US and Nato have more than 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama, the US president, is due to announce on Tuesday his decision on requests from his senior commanders for up to 40,000 more troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, has identified Khost province, the power base of fighters loyal to the Haqqani family, as a battlefront, along with the neighbouring provinces of Paktia and Paktika.

Source: Agencies

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