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Gates and Clinton attempt to sell troop surge to a sceptical Congress

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-12-02

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate hearing Wednesday that the troop surge strategy decided by President Obama is necessary to roll back the Taliban and hasten military disengagement from the region.

“Clear, hold, build and transfer”: those were the words of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates to describe “the essence” of his administration’s new strategy in Afghanistan, a speedy troop surge over a limited period of time to roll back the Taliban and transfer security responsibility to Afghan authorities.
He and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the Senate Arms Service Committee in an attempt to rally support for President Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan within the next six months. Gates told senators that the first reinforcements would be sent to the Afghan front “within two to three weeks”, and stressed the importance of taking control of areas with a strong Taliban presence.  
“Rolling back the Taliban is now necessary, even if not sufficient, to the ultimate defeat of al Qaeda”, Gates told senators, warning that “Taliban ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al Qaeda as well as a staging area for resurgent militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan.”
Limited military action but “enduring regional commitment”
The Defence Secretary added that the US would begin transferring military and policing responsibilities to the Afghan government as early as 2011. “Beginning to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans in the summer of 2011 is critical and, in my view, achievable”, he told senators.
In turn, Hillary Clinton pledged an “enduring” US and allied commitment to the social and economical development of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We will significantly expand support intended for Pakistan to develop the potential of their people”, she said.

Clinton said she would seek more allied commitments for “troops, trainers and resources” in Afghanistan at NATO talks in Brussels this week. Gates has asked NATO member countries to send a combined total of between 5,000 and 7,000 extra troops to the Afghan front, a request Danish NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged to meet. Although the European Union issued a statement saying that it was “ready to work closely with the USA and the international community to help resolve the Afghan crisis”, so far only the UK and Poland have pledged a specific number of troops (500 and 600 soldiers respectively).
Convincing congress to foot the bill
In the days and weeks following his address, Obama faces an uphill battle convincing a sceptical Congress to foot the bill of his new strategy.
In a speech at Fort Hood on Tuesday, Obama conceded that the new strategy carries an expensive price tag, which he put at an additional 30 billion dollars in the first year. The anticipated 30 billion dollars would push the cost of military operations in Afghanistan to nearly 95 billion dollars for this fiscal year.
During Clinton and Gate’s Senate hearing, it was already clear that many influential senators, including Obama’s 2008 Republican rival for the presidency John McCain, had serious doubts about the presented withdrawal timeline. “What concerns me greatly, is the president's decision to set an arbitrary date beginning the withdrawal ...(a) date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies.”
However, Obama’s pledge to start bringing US troops home after 18 months is bound to have a positive impact on the morale of soldiers in the field, and could help smooth opposition from fellow Democrats who oppose escalating an already lengthy war.


Date created : 2009-12-02


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