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Obama commits 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, outlines withdrawal plan

Video by Olivia Salazar-Winspear

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-12-02

In a long-awaited speech on his new Afghan strategy, US President Barack Obama said he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the coming months. But he vowed to start troop withdrawals in mid-2011.

US President Barack Obama has unveiled a fast-track Afghan strategy, ordering the deployment of 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan by next summer in a bid to bring the eight-year war to “a successful conclusion”.

But he warned that the US would start withdrawing its troops by 2011, maintaining that the nation could not shoulder an open-ended commitment in the war-torn country.

In a prime-time TV address delivered from the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, on Tuesday night, Obama set out his long-awaited new strategy. It calls for an accelerated timeframe "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan".

The new deployments, along with 21,000 troops he authorised in March, will bring the total US force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000, more than half of which will have been sent to the war zone by Obama.

Speaking to an audience of 4,000 cadets at the elite US military establishment on Tuesday, Obama pledged that the latest troop boost “will allow us to accelerate handing over the responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011”.

‘The days of providing a blank cheque are over’

Obama’s withdrawal schedule marked the first time that a US president has announced a definitive date for the start of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“He had to give an exit date. It’s a message to war-weary Americans,” said Claire Billet, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Kabul.

Domestic opposition to the war in Afghanistan has increased over the past few months due to the rising violence and widely-discredited August presidential elections.

The withdrawal timeframe also sent a powerful message to Kabul that “the days of providing a blank cheque are over”. Obama also called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to seriously crack down on corruption.

Reporting from Kabul, Guardian correspondent Jon Boone told FRANCE 24 that it would be difficult for the US to make support conditional on political progress.

“The US and its allies have never been very good at living out to these threats because, ultimately, the US and its allies need the Afghan government as much as the Afghan government needs the US and its allies,” said Boone shortly after Obama delivered his 33-minute address.

 

Taliban vows to battle increased US troops, Pakistan warns of fallout

 

Besides a military surge targeted at securing key population centres and training Afghan security forces, Obama’s speech outlined a political strategy focused on reintegrating moderate Taliban into the Afghan political game, while denying extremists safe heavens in neighbouring Pakistan.

“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,” said Obama.

But in its response to Obama’s speech, Pakistan warned that a US troop surge in neighbouring Afghanistan raised fears of an influx of militants over the border into the largely un-administered tribal zones.

A Pakistani foreign ministry statement Wednesday said that the US must work with Islamabad to ensure "there would be no adverse fallout on Pakistan.”

In a statement emailed to media outlets on Wednesday, the Taliban warned that an increased US troop presence in Afghanistan would only increase their resistance.

A day after Obama’s speech, the Afghan government welcomed the US commitment to boost troop levels. Speaking to the AFP news service on Wednesday, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Faqiri said the ministry “welcomes the new strategy".

Footing the bill during an economic crisis

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 his speech, 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 would push the cost of military operations in Afghanistan to nearly 95 billion dollars for this fiscal year.

Following Obama’s speech, a slew of US officials are set to testify before Congress about the administration’s new strategy.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Defence Secretary Bill Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen should testify before congressional hearings later this week.

 

Date created : 2009-12-02

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