By Michael A. Fletcher
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. -- President Obama fired back Monday at critics who accuse him of taking too long to review war strategy in Afghanistan, telling an audience of military personnel he will not rush his decision on whether to send additional troops there.
Before 3,500 members of the military and their families in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Obama said U.S. troops deserve a clear strategy and full support to fulfill their mission.
"I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary," Obama said to loud applause. "And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt."
Framed on the dais by uniformed members of the Navy and Marine Corps, and with members of other branches standing in front of him, Obama pushed back against those who have said his weeks-long review of war strategy for Afghanistan is endangering troops there.
Former vice president Richard B. Cheney accused Obama last week of "dithering" as he weighs whether to add up to 40,000 new U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan. Cheney said Obama "seems afraid" to make a decision, adding that as the president makes up his mind, "America's armed forces are in danger."
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has said he needs additional troops or the United States will risk failure of its counterinsurgency strategy.
Obama met Monday morning with his top national security advisers in the White House Situation Room before traveling to Jacksonville.
Aboard Air Force One, press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters the president's decision "could come at any moment," although he said most likely it will be announced within weeks.
In his remarks to the troops, Obama thanked them for their service and said his administration is doing all it can to support them. He said he will sign a $680 billion defense authorization bill this week, even though the measure includes $560 million for an alternate F-35 engine he opposed as wasteful.
"To make sure you can meet the missions we ask of you, we're increasing the defense budget," he said.
Before speaking to the troops, Obama met with the families of some fallen soldiers. He thanked the larger group, which he praised as the "best-trained, best-prepared, best-led force in history."
"Your dedication to duty is humbling," Obama said. "Your love of country is inspiring. The American people thank you for your service. We honor you for your sacrifices. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you."