By Karen DeYoung and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
President Obama will outline Tuesday his intention to send an additional 34,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials and diplomatic sources briefed Monday as Obama began informing allies of his plan.
The new deployments, along with 22,000 troops he authorized early this year, would bring the total U.S. force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000, more than half of which will have been sent to the war zone by Obama.
The president also plans to ask NATO and other partners in an international coalition to contribute 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, officials said. The combined U.S. and NATO deployments would nearly reach the 40,000 requested last summer by U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, as part of an intensified counterinsurgency strategy.
The new troops are to be sent in stages beginning in January, with options to delay or cancel deployments, depending on the performance of the Afghan government and other factors. Defense officials said that, beyond Marine units deploying next month, no final decisions have been made about specific units or the order in which they would be sent.
Details of Obama's plan emerged on the eve of his prime-time address from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He will use the Tuesday speech to explain his Afghan strategy to an American public that is increasingly pessimistic about the war after eight years and rising casualties.
Even as he escalates U.S. involvement, Obama will lay out in his speech what amounts to an exit strategy, centered on measures to strengthen the Afghan government so that its security forces can begin taking control of their own country. He is expected to specify benchmarks for Afghan progress on both the military and political fronts, according to U.S. and allied officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the strategy.
White House officials remained tight-lipped, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- with whom Obama spoke Monday -- offered a preview of aspects of the strategy when he addressed Parliament.
The military objective, Brown said, is "to create the space for an effective political strategy to work, weakening the Taliban by strengthening Afghanistan itself." Over the next year, he said, the Afghan army will be expanded from 90,000 to 134,000 troops, with 10,000 of them going to Helmand province, where U.S. Marines and British forces have focused their fight against the Taliban. Further increases are envisioned for later.
The number of Afghan policemen in Helmand will increase immediately to 4,100, Brown said, and the size of the police training academy in Helmand is to be doubled. Within six months, the coalition is to finalize a plan for overall police reform with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Brown said that the strategy calls for "transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans -- district by district, province by province -- with the first districts and provinces potentially being handed over during the next year," depending on "the Afghans being ready."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that transferring security responsibility for specific Afghan areas will be "a big part of what you'll hear the president talk about tomorrow."
Allied governments have pressed Karzai to remove warlords and cronies from senior government positions. Over the next nine months, Brown said, the Afghan president "will be expected to implement . . . far-reaching reforms to ensure that, from now on, all 400 provinces and districts have a governor appointed on merit, free from corruption, with clearly defined roles, skills and resources."
Strategy objectives, Brown said, also include encouraging "a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbors, based on their guarantee of non-interference in Afghanistan's affairs," increased economic and cultural links, and "immediate confidence-building security measures."
Obama has offered Pakistan an expanded strategic partnership, while insisting that Pakistani troops take action against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in that country. Coalition and Afghan efforts, Brown said, "must be matched by actions not simply to isolate but defeat al-Qaeda within Pakistan."
After months of deliberations, Obama informed senior war advisers Sunday evening of his decision in an Oval Office meeting attended by Vice President Biden; national security adviser James L. Jones; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman; Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command; and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Obama also telephoned Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and spoke with McChrystal and Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and ordered ground commanders to begin carrying out his plan.
On Monday, the president began a carefully orchestrated strategy rollout with calls to allied leaders, including Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He met at the White House with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who increased the Australian contingent in Afghanistan to more than 1,500 troops this year.
Gibbs said Obama would also brief Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari before delivering his address, as well as the leaders of India, China, Poland and Germany.
Before he departs for West Point late Tuesday afternoon, Obama is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders to discuss his plan. Gibbs said that so far, a "bipartisan, bicameral" group of legislators, numbering 31, has been invited to the White House, representing the committees that would consider Obama's Afghan strategy and the funding request to pay for it.
Clinton, Gates, Mullen and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, will accompany Obama to West Point, and Clinton, Gates and Mullen will testify on the strategy in four congressional hearings Wednesday and Thursday. Next week, Petraeus will testify with Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed by joint congressional appearances by McChrystal and Eikenberry.
Gibbs said that he did "not have anything conclusive" on how Obama intends to pay for the escalation and that it would not be detailed in the speech.
Equally uncertain is the likelihood that NATO and other allies will contribute additional troops to a war that is deeply unpopular in Europe. Britain has authorized 9,500 troops; France has 3,750 on the ground. Among other NATO allies with forces in Afghanistan, Canada and the Netherlands have set withdrawal dates. Clinton will leave Thursday for Brussels to brief NATO allies, and the alliance will hold a "force generation conference" next week.