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Obama Adds Troops But Eyes Afghan Exit

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CNN: President Obama launched a new chapter in the Afghanistan war Tuesday, committing an additional 30,000 U.S. troops while setting a goal of starting to bring forces home by July 2011.

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In a televised speech from the U.S. Military Academy, Obama outlined a strategy intended to eliminate al Qaeda in Afghanistan and help the Afghan government defeat the Taliban insurgency while bolstering Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts.

"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 declared in the 35-minute speech. "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."

The response from Kabul was positive.

"The U.S. president's speech was very important," said Afghan Foreign Minister Dadfar Rangin Spanta on Wednesday. "Mr. Obama said that the United States will take the necessary steps to help Afghanistan."

Insurgents, however, warned against the influx.

"The troop increase is a bad idea, and more U.S. soldiers will die because of it," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, who accused Obama of political pandering.

Facing opposition from many in his liberal base, Obama cited the security threat to the U.S. and its allies to explain the need to increase troops in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000.

He also said he would ask NATO allies to increase the 40,000 troops they have sent there.

At the same time, Obama included an early date to begin withdrawing forces to signal that the U.S. commitment would not be endless.

"Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground," Obama said. "We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul.

"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."

The additional 30,000 troops would begin deploying early next year at "the fastest pace possible," said Obama, whom conservatives criticized for taking more than three months to decide on a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal for up to 40,000 more troops.

Obama noted that all plans presented by military leaders called for deployment beginning in 2010, "so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war."

McChrystal praised the announcement, saying the president provided him with a clear mission and the necessary resources.

"The clarity, commitment and resolve outlined in the president's address are critical steps toward bringing security to Afghanistan and eliminating terrorist safe havens that threaten regional and global security," McChrystal said in a statement.

On Capitol Hill, the reaction was mixed. Republicans generally supported the deployment of more troops but worried that setting a timeline for troop withdrawals would signal a limited commitment to allies and enemies.

"Why would you condition this thing before you start?" asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. Noting the 18-month period between the start of deployment and the announced date to begin withdrawals, Graham said some U.S. troops likely "are going to meet each other coming and going."

Democrats were divided, with many opposing the new deployment and threatening to try to withhold funding, while some said they needed more time to study the issue or expressed support. However, it was too early to tell whether Congress would block spending for a troop increase estimated to cost as much as $30 billion a year.

"I disagree with the president's two key assumptions: that we can transfer responsibility to Afghanistan after 18 months and that our NATO allies will make a significant contribution," said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania. "It is unrealistic to expect the United States to be out in 18 months, so there is really no exit strategy. This venture is not worth so many American lives or the billions it will add to our deficit."

Obama said the additional U.S. forces bolstered by NATO troops "will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."

David S. Sedney, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asian affairs, said the date to begin withdrawal was based on careful analysis of how soon Afghan forces can assume security responsibilities from foreign troops.

Three senior administration officials who outlined the strategy said it includes plans to build up the Afghan army to 134,000 troops in 2010 and increase the size of the police force so that the transfer of authority can begin in summer 2011.

Just one of 34 provinces is entirely under Afghan military and police control, according to CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, who said three senior officials emphasized a handover to Afghan security services in 2011 likely would be possible in only some parts of the country.

Acknowledging the economic crisis at home, Obama said the deployment "cannot be open-ended, because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."

It is the second increase of U.S. forces in the war-torn Islamic country that Obama has ordered, and his announcement comes nine days before he goes to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

A Pentagon official acknowledged Obama's six-month timeline for sending new troops is aggressive and will be challenging to fulfill but said the military will successfully carry out the order.

In requesting more troops, McChrystal wrote 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."

Critics of a new deployment said corruption and overall lack of governance make Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government an unreliable partner, dooming the mission.

Obama made clear that Karzai must carry out promised reforms to ensure continued U.S. support.

"The days of providing a blank check are over," Obama said, adding: "We will support Afghan ministries, governors and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable."

In a message to Afghanistan, Obama said: "We have no interest in occupying your country."

"We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens," Obama said. "And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect -- to isolate those who destroy, to strengthen those who build, to hasten the day when our troops will leave and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner and never your patron."

The strategy also focuses on helping Pakistan, with Obama saying, "There is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy."

"We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," Obama said, referring to Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders thought to be in Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border.

"And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed," the president said.

Obama rejected comparisons with the Vietnam War.

"Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action," Obama said. "Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists, who are plotting along its border."

U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks. The invasion overthrew the ruling Taliban, which had allowed al Qaeda to operate from Afghanistan, but most of the top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership escaped the onslaught.

Taliban fighters have regrouped in the mountainous region along the Afghan border with Pakistan, battling U.S. and Afghan forces on one side and Pakistani troops on the other.

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

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