Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obama: Afghanistan not lost, remains challenge..FULL SPEECH


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U.S. casualties in Afghanistan
The number of American troops killed and wounded since the beginning of the war
2001 11 33
2002 49 74
2003 45 99
2004 52 214
2005 98 268
2006 98 401
2007 117 752
2008 155 790
2009 299 1,803
Total 924 4,434
Source: Defense Manpower Data Center

Obama announces 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan

Washington Post

President Obama outlined a plan Tuesday night to speed the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan early next year, nearly tripling the force he inherited at the start of his presidency, and then to start withdrawing American personnel in July 2011 as a way to prod the Afghan government to accept greater responsibility for fighting the radical Islamist Taliban movement and securing the country.

"As commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan," Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."

Laying out what he called the "huge challenges" facing U.S. and allies forces, Obama said: "Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum." Al-Qaeda "has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers" as before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "but they retain their safe havens along the border," he said. "And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population."

Obama linked the effort in Afghanistan to U.S. support for a battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in neighboring Pakistan, and he offered assurances to the people of both countries.

"We will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan," he said. "We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border."

He rejected criticism that he has dawdled in setting out a new war plan for Afghanistan. "There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war," he said.

Obama said his new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost an additional $30 billion this year. But he pledged to work closely with Congress to address these costs.

"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," Obama said.

He said the reinforcements would "increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces," allowing more Afghans to "get into the fight" and creating conditions for U.S. withdrawal.

In his long-awaited announcement of a new war plan for Afghanistan -- where 68,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed, about 33,000 of them sent there this year -- Obama said he has asked for additional contributions from U.S. allies. Those troops are intended to help make up the difference between the U.S. reinforcements and the 40,000 troops that the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan has requested to deal with the threat of a resurgent Taliban.

"Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead," Obama said. "Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. 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."

According to Obama, the extra U.S. and allied troops would "allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and . . . begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011." He said this withdrawal will be executed "responsibly" by "taking into account conditions on the ground," as he said has been the case in drawing down U.S. troops in Iraq.

The United States would continue to help Afghan security forces "to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul," he said. "But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."

Speaking before an audience of West Point's cadets, Obama addressed the nation a little more than eight years after U.S.-backed Afghan forces drove the Taliban from power in Kabul, ending five years of brutal rule marked by warfare against ethnic minorities and strict imposition of an extremist version of Islamic law. During that period, the Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization, allowing it to set up bases and safe houses to train militants and plot attacks against the West.

In a briefing before Obama's speech, a senior administration official told reporters that the U.S. goal in Afghanistan is "to prevent the return of . . . al-Qaeda and to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government." He said the "surge" of U.S. forces ordered by Obama was aimed at reversing Taliban momentum that has been building steadily for three or four years, securing population centers in the south and east and training Afghan forces as quickly as possible so they can assume responsibility and allow U.S. forces to withdraw.

"This surge . . . will be for a defined period of time," the official said. "We do not intend . . . to commit American combat forces indefinitely to Afghanistan."

Obama's announcement that he is simultaneously escalating the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and setting a starting date for withdrawal reflected the divisions that arose within his administration during a three-month strategy review and the difficult politics he faces in selling his plan on Capitol Hill.

Many Democrats oppose sending more U.S. troops to wage a war that most Americans now believe is not worth fighting, according to recent polls.

Tackling arguments against his decision, Obama rejected the idea that "Afghanistan is another Vietnam," an argument he said "depends on a false reading of history," and that the United States should cut its losses and pull out now.

"To abandon this area now -- and to rely only on efforts against al-Qaeda from a distance -- would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies," he said.

He said going ahead with the troops already in Afghanistan "would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there," ultimately proving more costly.

To those who oppose identifying a timeline for withdrawal, he said, an "open-ended escalation of our war effort" would commit the United States to "goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost" and would remove "any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government."

Obama declared: "It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."

Explaining Obama's plan to start drawing down U.S. troops in July 2011, the officials said that date marks "the beginning of a process which is not yet defined in terms of the length of the process or the end point." The pace of the withdrawals and the final pullout will be determined by "conditions on the ground," he said.

By setting a date to start the withdrawals, Obama hopes to prod Afghan President Hamid Karzai to crack down on official corruption, build his government as an alternative to the Taliban and establish a well-trained Afghan army.

Asked if publicly announcing the date would simply encourage insurgents to lie low, the official said, "if the Taliban thinks they can wait us out, I think that they're misjudging the president's approach." The timeline "may be misinterpreted, but the Taliban will do that at its own risk," he said.

He insisted that "there's a value in setting a date like this as a sort of strategic inflection point, because it does put everyone . . . under pressure to do more sooner."

Among those supporting Obama's decision was Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who made headlines three months ago when he shouted "You lie!" at Obama during a presidential speech to Congress on health care. In a statement Tuesday, Wilson said he was "pleased that the president has listened to our commanders on the ground as they aggressively pursue a multidimensional counterinsurgency strategy to secure Afghanistan."

NATO ministers are scheduled to meet later this week in Brussels to secure new commitments of additional forces for Afghanistan.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, Obama is asking four major European NATO allies to contribute about 6,000 troops to the Afghan war effort. In one of a series of phone calls Monday to explain the U.S. strategy to leading allies and major powers, the newspaper reported, Obama asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy to send 1,500 additional troops.

Le Monde said Washington also is requesting 2,000 additional troops from Germany, 1,500 from Italy and 1,000 from Britain. NATO's military mission in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), currently includes about 4,500 troops from Germany, 9,000 from Britain, 3,750 from France and nearly 2,800 from Italy.

Besides the United States, 42 other nations -- including all 26 NATO members -- have contributed troops to ISAF. By far the leading contributor to the NATO force has been the United States, with 34,800 troops. A similar number of American troops are under separate U.S. command. U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal heads both ISAF and the separate U.S. military contingent in Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told lawmakers Tuesday that 500 more British troops would be sent to Afghanistan early this month, raising the country's total to 9,500. He said he has received assurances "that several other countries in the coalition will also provide additional troops" and that thousands of Afghan soldiers would be deployed to embattled Helmand province to work alongside NATO forces, the British Defense Ministry reported.

Sarkozy, who declared in October that no additional French soldiers would be sent to Afghanistan, is now prepared to help meet Obama's request for more allied troops, depending on the Afghan government's commitment to improve governance and fight corruption, French news media reported.

Germany, for its part, faces strong internal opposition to providing more troops, especially after a German-ordered airstrike near Kunduz in early September reportedly killed dozens of civilians. A controversy over the U.S. airstrike on two hijacked fuel tanker trucks already has led to the resignation of a German cabinet member who was defense minister at the time.

In an hour-long conversation via secure video teleconference Monday night, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai "reaffirmed their commitment to work closely together to ensure stability in Afghanistan and to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists," the White House said Tuesday. It said the two discussed a range of issues, including the rampant corruption that has helped the Taliban make inroads in recent years.

Obama urged more rapid development of Afghan security forces and stressed that "U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan are not open-ended," but must be reevaluated within the next 18 to 24 months, the White House said.

In a separate call to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Obama pledged to continue assisting Pakistan in his fight against Islamist extremists and praised the country's "profound sacrifices" in its current offensive against the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan, the White House said.

Obama wants Afghan war over in 3 years

Washington (CNN) -- President Obama is sending 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan but plans to conclude the war and withdraw most U.S. service members within three years, senior administration officials told CNN Tuesday.

The president is ordering military officials to get the reinforcements to Afghanistan within six months, White House officials said.

Obama will travel to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, later Tuesday to officially announce his plans. It would be his second escalation of U.S. forces in the war-torn Islamic country since he came to power in January.

The president also is seeking further troop commitments from NATO allies as part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at wiping out al Qaeda elements and stabilizing the country while training Afghan forces.

The expected new troop deployment would increase the total U.S. commitment to roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, bolstered by about 45,000 NATO forces.

Watch what the new troops will do in Afghanistan

Obama, whom Republicans had accused of "dithering" over the decision, came to the conclusion that the deployment needs to be accelerated to knock back the Taliban, the officials said.

The push for a speedy deployment surprised some observers, because White House officials who defended Obama's slow pace of coming to a decision had said the Pentagon wouldn't be able to get new troops to Afghanistan that quickly.

Asked to explain that seeming contradiction, a White House official told CNN: "The president is saying this has to happen, so the military will make it happen."

A Pentagon official acknowledged Obama's six-month timeline for sending the new troops is "very aggressive" and will be challenging for the military to fulfill. The official expressed confidence, however, that the military would successfully carry out the order.

The official noted that, under the new strategy, Obama is "trying to do it faster" than the 12-month timeline initially requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

McChrystal wrote in a report in August that a "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

In addition to reviewing new timelines, the president's speech, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, will also explain why the United States is involved in Afghanistan, the new American mission in the war-torn country and the process that led to Obama's decision.

The president will emphasize the limit on U.S. resources in manpower and budget, Gibbs added.

Gibbs said Obama has been briefing top aides, military officials and foreign leaders about this decision. The president previously ordered more than 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

The decision to send another 30,000 troops carries significant political risk for Obama, who will announce it nine days before he travels to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

His liberal base, which helped him win last year's presidential election, opposes another troop deployment to Afghanistan.

"I think he's made up his mind that there needs to be a troop increase, and I have to say I'm very skeptical about that as a solution," said Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Illinois, a longtime Obama ally who now worries Afghanistan will become what she calls another quagmire.

In addition, the deployment -- expected to cost an extra $30 billion a year -- comes amid high unemployment as the economy emerges from a recession. That concerns Democrats and Republicans faced with competing domestic priorities such as health care reform and job creation.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, recently proposed a special war surtax to finance the conflict.

Gibbs told reporters Monday that he had "not heard extensive discussion" at the White House about a possible surtax.

"I know the president will touch on costs" during Tuesday's address, he said, but "I don't expect to get overly detailed [about that issue] in the speech."

In Afghanistan, reaction to the possibility of more U.S. troops ranges from outright opposition to a willingness to see what happens.

"We welcome their arrival if they really expel the Taliban, terrorists, and al Qaeda from the borders of Afghanistan," said Mohammad Zia, 40, in Kabul, the capital. "But if they come and kill more civilians and destroy villages, then they shouldn't come."

Back home, Obama's allies said the president must convince the American public that sending more troops will help achieve the goals of the mission.

"The president needs to explain how more combat troops will speed up training of Afghan forces," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said Sunday on the CBS program "Face the Nation."

The deployment won't work if the mission is for the United States to take on the Taliban on its own, Levin said.

As for why the president chose West Point as the venue, the White House officials noted the Army has borne an extremely heavy burden in the Afghan war, so the school is an important symbol.

The officials said West Point not only is where cadets train, but also where they study counterinsurgency principles at the heart of the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Watch people in West Point town talk about the war

The decision to send 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan could delay the Army's promise of ensuring all troops get at least two years home between deployments, a senior Army official told CNN.

The Army's goal was to implement such a policy by 2011, the official noted.

U.S.-led troops first invaded Afghanistan in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon by the al Qaeda terrorist network. The invasion overthrew the ruling Taliban, which had allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory -- but most of the top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership escaped the onslaught.

Taliban fighters have since regrouped in the mountainous region along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, battling U.S. and Afghan government forces on one side and Pakistani troops on the other. Al Qaeda's top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, remain at large and are suspected to be hiding in the same region.

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 900 Americans and nearly 600 allied troops.

Obama Briefs Karzai on War Plans

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama discussed the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan during an hour-long video conference call Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the presidential palace said.

The video conference came ahead of Mr. Obama's planned speech Tuesday night at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, N.Y., where he will outline a new U.S. war plan and dispatch between 30,000 and 35,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Karzai's office says the two leaders discussed in detail the security, political, military and economic aspects of the strategy. The call was one of several Mr. Obama was making to world leaders, including Asif Ali Zardari, the president of neighboring Pakistan.

Mr. Obama's war escalation includes sending more American forces into Afghanistan in a graduated deployment over the next year. They will join the 71,000 U.S. troops already on the ground. Mr. Obama's new war strategy also includes renewed focus on training Afghan forces to take over the fight and allow the Americans to leave.

Thirty thousand more troops would be 10,000 fewer than Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan, requested, reports CBS News correspondent David Martin. The president hopes to make up at least some of the difference with contributions from NATO allies.

"I think NATO will come through with a couple thousand and so I think we'll still be somewhat short of what Gen. McChrystal proposed," Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution told CBS News.

Mr. Obama also is expected to explain why he believes the U.S. must continue to fight more than eight years after the war was started following the Sept. 11 attacks by al Qaeda terrorists based in Afghanistan.

He will emphasize that Afghan security forces need more time, more schooling and more U.S. combat backup to be up to the job on their own, and he will make tougher demands on the governments of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Gunman attacks house of Pakistani columnist

ISLAMABAD — A gunman opened fire on the house of a newspaper columnist critical of Pakistan's army and spy agencies in an attack the writer alleged on Tuesday was carried out by elements linked to the country's powerful security establishment.
Kamran Shafi recounted the attack and a death threat he received the following day in his weekly column in the respected Dawn newspaper. He and his family were not injured in the incident in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on Friday.
The army spokesman declined to comment.
Shafi, a former army major, is a prominent critic of the military and its influence over the country's weak civilian leadership. The issue has been in the spotlight in recent weeks amid rising pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari from within the military.
Shafi said a gunman fired six times at his house before collecting the bullet casings and fleeing.
Shafi, his wife and daughter were in the house during the late night attack, but in a room below the one where the bullets entered.
Yasin Farooq, a senior police officer in Rawalpindi, said officers were investigating the shooting, but no progress had been made.
The day after the shooting, Shafi received a call from a woman who said what happened was a "trailer" and that the complete movie would be shown soon.
"One does not spit in the plate one eats from," she allegedly said.
In his column, Shafi said he had filed a police complaint in which he alleged suspects linked to unidentified state security agencies were involved. He did not give any evidence to back up the allegation.
Pakistan has several powerful spy agencies, which operate independently of state control. They have been accused of targeted killings and abductions in the past, including suspected Islamist terrorists allegedly handed over to the United States.
Pakistan's freewheeling media often contains criticism of the army and the spy agencies, but Shafi is especially vocal.
He said a recent column calling for the country's main spy agency to be headed by a civilian drew several e-mails containing the "vilest abuse."
In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said he would continue criticizing the army's role in the affairs of the state.
"Absolutely, there is no other way to go," he said. "We have to have democracy in the country if we are to succeed."

Provincial Politician Is Slain in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber killed a provincial lawmaker in the northern Swat Valley on Tuesday, according to government officials.

Swat, a picturesque valley 100 miles north of the capital Islamabad in North-West Frontier Province was the focus of heavy fighting earlier this year. While the military was able to wrest the region from the control of Taliban militants, most of the insurgent leadership managed to escape and sporadic violence has continued.

Shamsher Ali, 59, the slain legislator, was a member of the provincial assembly from the Awami National Party, a liberal, secular political party that heads the ruling coalition in the province. The party has taken a tough stand against Taliban militants and its members have been the targets of several assassinations and attacks.

Mr. Ali was receiving guests at his house Tuesday afternoon when a suicide bomber entered the compound and detonated explosives, killing Mr. Ali and his brother. At least 15 people were wounded in the attack, police officials said.