WASHINGTON: It is in America’s vital national interests to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said tonight during a speech at West Point, N.Y.
Obama said that this surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan will begin to ebb in July 2011 when U.S. and NATO forces and allies begin turning over security responsibility to Afghan security forces.
“I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he said to the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy. “This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”
The United States must rise to the challenge of al-Qaida and the Taliban. The extremists still operate in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and still threaten America and its allies.
“This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al-Qaida can operate with impunity,” the president said.
The United States and its international allies must keep pressure on the terror group, and that also will mean increasing the stability and capacity of partners in the region.
The 30,000 servicemembers and their equipment will flow in to Afghanistan in the first half of 2010, Obama said. White House officials speaking on background earlier today said this will entail at least two or three Army brigade combat teams, and many soldiers and Marines to train the Afghan security forces. Air Force and Navy personnel also will be called on to support this effort.
A military counterinsurgency effort aimed at protecting the Afghan people is only one part of the strategy, the president said. The second is a civilian surge that reinforces positive actions, and the third is an effective partnership with Pakistan.
The military strategy is aimed at reversing the Taliban’s momentum and will increase Afghanistan’s security capabilities over the next 18 months, Obama said. The strategy has at its core disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida and its extremist allies as the president announced in March.
The 30,000 additional troops will target the insurgency and secure key population centers. “They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight,” Obama said. “And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.”
The president also will ask for international military contributions. Some nations Britain and Australia for example already have provided additional troops, and he expects more nations will come forward soon.
“Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan,” the president said. “Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what’s at stake is not simply a test of NATO’s credibility what’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world.”
Obama used the experiences in Iraq as a yardstick. Just as in Iraq, additional forces will provide the time and security needed to train local forces, thus accelerating a handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces beginning in July 2011.
“Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground,” he said.
The civilian strategy will entail working with allies, international agencies and the Afghan people “to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security,’ he said.
Aid to Afghanistan must be based on performance, the president said. “The days of providing a blank check are over,” he said.
Obama said Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message. The United States will support Afghan ministries, governors and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people, he added.
“We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable,” he said. “And we will also focus our assistance in areas such as agriculture that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.”
Obama stressed that the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan or subjugating its people.
“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,” he said.
Obama stressed that the United States will not run out on Pakistan.
“We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country,” he said. “But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”
The Pakistani people were shocked by Taliban offensives that took them within 60 miles of the capital of Islamabad this year. They realize the extremists are a grave danger to the country and are addressing it. Obama praised the Pakistani military for its recent offensives in South Waziristan and Swat.
“Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust,” Obama said. “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.”
The United States also will provide resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development.
“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.