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Obama: U.S. security is still at stake

"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 said in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

The president reaffirmed that destroying al-Qaeda is the chief objective of his strategy and emphasized that turning over government and security responsibilities to Afghans as quickly as possible is essential to the mission. He called the region "the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda."

Of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops that Obama plans to deploy, 5,000 will be dedicated to training Afghan security forces. A senior administration official said the goal for the Afghan army, for example, is to increase its ranks from 90,000 to 134,000 by the end of 2010.

All the U.S. troops are due to arrive by the end of May, moving up by about six months the expected deployment schedule. Most of the combat forces will be used in the south and east, where the Taliban is the strongest.

During the review, Obama asked for province-by-province assessments of the Taliban's strength, the effectiveness of provincial Afghan leaders and the overall security outlook to determine how quickly U.S. forces could leave certain regions.

Those calculations, likely to evolve as the conflict intensifies, will help determine the shape and timing of the eventual U.S. withdrawal.

At the same time, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is concerned that an abrupt U.S. departure will leave his country vulnerable to the Taliban, which the Pakistani army is fighting in the tribal areas. But many Pakistanis believe the U.S. role in the region is inflaming the war and weakening the government, something Obama sought to address in his speech.

"In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly," he said. "Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust."

Staff researcher Alice R. Crites contributed to this report.

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