Obama sets 18-month deadline for 30,000 troops

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told a national
television audience Tuesday that he would swiftly deploy 30,000 more U.S.
troops to Afghanistan. But he said the new forces would begin withdrawing from
the embattled nation in July 2011, because Americans “have no interest in
fighting an endless war.”

The surge of forces that Obama has ordered will raise the
U.S. commitment to 98,000 troops by next summer, at an estimated added cost of
about $30 billion a year. The pace of the subsequent draw-down, however,
remains uncertain and depends, administration officials said, on
“conditions on the ground.”

Both the military boost and announced start of a planned
withdrawal are intended to weaken and ultimately defeat the Taliban and to
train Afghan security forces, administration officials said.

The goal, the president said, is “to seize the
initiative,” finally, in a war that started after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks and is not going well after eight years. The president said
he wants to build Afghanistan’s capacity to secure itself and then allow for
“a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.”

“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come
home,” the president said before an audience of cadets at the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point. “The absence of a time frame for
transition would deny us any sense of urgency. … It must be clear that
Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security.”

Acknowledging the price of the deployment, the president
said, “Our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended, because
the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.”

The president has in mind a time frame of 18 to 24 months
for the new mission, one senior administration official said. Senior
administration officials referred to the new strategy as a “surge,” a
term familiar from the previous administration’s renewed Iraq war strategy.

“While we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq,
the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated,” Obama said.
“Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved
backwards.”

Already this year, the president has nearly doubled the U.S.
military force in Afghanistan, with 33,000 of the existing 68,000 troops added
this year. The additional force of 30,000 will include two or three combat
brigades and one brigade-size group dedicated to the training of Afghan forces.

The president conducted a three-month strategy review before
announcing his plans Tuesday night. During the review, the military proposed
sending in additional forces over the course of a year, with Gen. Stanley
McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, seeking 40,000.

Administration officials said the deployment of additional
troops would occur quickly.

“The force option that the president has chosen gets
more troops into Afghanistan faster than any option that was previously
presented to him,” one administration official said.

While trying to prevent al-Qaida from returning to
Afghanistan, the administration also is intent on helping neighboring Pakistan
with its own security issues.

“We did not ask for this fight,” Obama said,
pointing to the al-Qaida-run attacks of Sept. 11 that claimed nearly 3,000
lives. “We must keep the pressure on al-Qaida. … We are in Afghanistan
to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.”

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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