President Barack Obama on Friday announced a “comprehensive new strategy— for Afghanistan and Iraq that includes the dispatch of 4,000 new troops to Afghanistan this spring.
The troops will be used to help train Afghan forces, but Obama did not specifically say they will be deployed exclusively for that purpose. Instead, he said they would “fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan Army and Police,— without indicating whether they could also be used for combat. The troops will supplement the 17,000 he recently deployed to combat the Taliban there.
Obama, who spoke at the White House, also called on Congress to pass legislation that would provide $1.5 billion a year to help buttress the government in Pakistan, which is heavily embroiled in its own problem with extremists. With the Taliban and al-Qaida operating on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border, Obama said the fate of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan was inextricably linked to the ability of Pakistan to quash extremism in its own country.
Obama offered a blunt assessment of the task ahead. “The situation is increasingly perilous,— he said. “It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.—
He issued frank warnings reminiscent of the tough language use by former President George W. Bush, something he had so far avoided. “Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan,— Obama said. “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal — to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.—
The president added that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are “almost certainly— ensconced in remote areas of the Pakistani frontier.
Obama unleashed some just-barely-pulled punches against Bush, twice blaming the former president’s focus on Iraq for denying Afghanistan the tools to defeat the Taliban.
“To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq,— he said.
Obama promised to “accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000— by 2011. But he placed substantial emphasis on civilian aid to both countries and the need to strengthen the infrastructure that will prevent the spread of extremism.