After ordering 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, US president Barack Obama warned that his country would begin to withdraw its military forces by 2011. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
Deployed as quickly as possible, those soldiers will bring the US troop strength in Afghanistan to more that 100,000.
Calling for more allied troops, Obama said the world security is at stake.
He added that the mission in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qaeda, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny them the ability to overthrow the government.
The deployment decision followed more than three months of deliberations and 10 top-level meetings between president Obama and advisers.
Obama’s speech was welcomed by Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan,who said he had been given “a clear military mission” and the necessary resources.
Although some 32,000 foreign troops are serving in Afghanistan, Nato allies have been cautious about contributing further forces.
Yet Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s Secretary General, said he was confident 5,000 extra troops could be found.
The Afghan government also welcomed the decision.
However there is concern that putting a date on a US withdrawal sends the wrong signal, says the BBC’s Ian Pannell in Kabul.
According to him it risks giving encouragement to the Taliban. Furthermore, most Afghans do not want more troops but direct talking to the insurgents to end the conflict.
There were three major points in Obama’s speech. The president celebrated the US as a nation “founded in resistance to oppression” and talked about its long record of sacrifice in “advancing frontiers of human liberty.”
Then he promised an “effective partnership” with Pakistan, warning that the US could not “tolerate a safe haven for terrorists.”
Citing repeatedly the poor economy, he also explained that the estimated cost ($30bn for the military this year) was a factor in his deliberations.
‘Vital national interest’
Obama’s speech was delivered to cadets at the West Point military academy in New York, and nationally televised. (photo, from nytimes.com)
The US president stressed that his country was in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on America by al-Qaeda militants. He said that their Taliban allies had “begun to take control over swathes of Afghanistan” while committing “devastating acts of terrorism” against Pakistan.
He added that US forces lacked “the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population”.
“I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan,” he told the cadets.
“After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
Domestic opposition to the eight-year-old war has been increased by the rising violence, more than 900 US soldiers died in Afghanistan, and August’s discredited presidential elections.
Urging the Americans not the see the conflict as a new Vietnam war, president Obama said he was aware of the gravity of his decision to send extra troops.
He said that America was backed by a “broad coalition of 43 nations” and was not facing a “broad-based popular insurgency”.
“Most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border,” the US leader added.
He said the US would take the Iraq experience as its model for withdrawal.
“Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.“
Though he pledged to continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces, he warned : “It will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.
“The days of providing a blank cheque are over,” he added.
During his speech, the US president also outlined other priorities, such as enhancing the country’s domestic security, preventing nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists and forging better ties with the Muslim world.
The BBC’s Matthew Price says that the White House wants to convey that this is Barack Obama’s war and he is clear about the aims he wants to achieve.
“What’s at stake is the security of our allies, and the common security of the world,” said the US president, calling on America’s allies to boost their troop commitment.
UK prime minister Gordon Brown welcomed the US pledge saying “I call on all our allies to unite behind President Obama’s strategy.
“Britain will continue to play its full part in persuading other countries to offer troops to the Afghanistan campaign,” Mr Brown said. The day before, London confirmed it was sending 500 more troops, taking the UK’s total deployment to 10,000.
Although French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered full support to Mr Obama’s strategy and called it “courageous”, France earlier ruled out deploying more combat soldiers, though it might send military trainers.
Italy said it will also increase its force, but without saying by how much.
Germany has said it will wait until after a 28 January conference in London on Afghanistan before deciding on any troop increases.