Obama Addresses Afghanistan Strategy December 1
By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Washington — President Obama will lay out his strategy for Afghanistan in a speech from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
After meeting with his closest national security advisers nine times since July, the president will announce his plans for sending additional forces to Afghanistan, announce plans for enhanced training for the Afghan army and national police force, and make clear that this is not an indefinite commitment, according to White House officials over the past several weeks. The speech is set for December 1 at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT December 2) and will be telecast live.
Gibbs said Obama issued his order to send more U.S. forces to Afghanistan to the nation’s senior military leaders at an afternoon meeting in the White House November 29. Obama spent part of the day November 30 advising world leaders of the broad outlines of his emerging strategy.
Obama spoke first with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then met in the Oval Office with Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which has overall responsibility for operations in Afghanistan; retired General James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, Gibbs told reporters.
The president also spoke with U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, and to General Stanley McChrystal, who commands both U.S. forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Gibbs said the president will lay out his plan for sending additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, where American forces have been fighting since 2001, and how he intends to pay for the operations there. He will also explain that he has an exit strategy. “This is not an open-ended commitment,” Gibbs told reporters.
Senior civilian and military leaders are expected to testify before U.S. Senate and House armed services and foreign affairs committees this week to further explain the president’s strategy and the means to accomplish his goals.
Obama and his national security team have examined a range of strategies for achieving long-term security in Afghanistan in nine high-level meetings since July, when McChrystal first sent his assessment and recommendations to the president.
“We’re trying to look at [Afghanistan] from the ground up and make sure that we’re examining every assumption because what’s important is that at the end of the day the president makes a decision that he believes in, that he thinks is going to further our core objectives of … protecting our country, preventing attacks on us, trying to protect our interests and our allies,” Clinton said in a news interview October 6.
“It is difficult enough to deal with the challenges emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan and the continuing threat from al-Qaida, but to do it when there is so much pressure to make a snap decision, never to ask the hard questions, is really counterproductive,” Clinton said.
Obama held a series of deliberations with the U.S. National Security Council, consultations with congressional leadership, and consultations with allied nations and civilian national security experts.
And on October 6, Obama met for 75 minutes with 30 key leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan. During that meeting the president indicated that he does not intend to draw down U.S. forces or shift the mission entirely to hunting terrorists and the leaders of al-Qaida.
In Washington, speculation has widely asserted that the president could send as few as 10,000 additional forces or as many as 40,000 more. In recent weeks a range between 32,000 and 35,000 has been discussed by senior administration officials on background, but there has also been discussed an expanded commitment by NATO. Currently, the United States has about 68,000 forces in the country.
AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN STRATEGY
On March 27, Obama explained his objectives in Afghanistan, saying, “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.”
“We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Obama said.
“I think the key thing is to establish what our objectives are,” Gates said in the October 6 interview alongside Clinton. “And can we achieve our objectives? And the answer to that question is, absolutely.”
Gates said that regardless of the president’s decision on immediate troop levels, the United States will remain in Afghanistan.
“We are not leaving Afghanistan. There should be no uncertainty in terms of our determination to remain in Afghanistan and to continue to build a relationship of partnership and trust with the Pakistanis,” Gates said. “That’s a strategic objective of the United States for a number of reasons. … Pakistan is a strategically important country.”
Gates said an inability by the United States and its allies to put enough troops into Afghanistan has contributed to the Taliban gaining momentum in recent months.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)