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Obama on Brink of Unveiling New Afghan Strategy

November 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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President Obama said Tuesday that he is ready to unveil his decision about whether to deploy more troops to Afghanistan next week. Margaret Warner reports.

JIM LEHRER: President Obama confirmed today he’s ready to announce his decision on sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He said he would spell out his plans after Thanksgiving.

Margaret Warner has our lead story report.

MARGARET WARNER: The president met well into last night with his national security team, his 10th and final such session since September. Today, it was widely reported he will address the nation Tuesday night.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will be making an — an announcement to the American people about how we intend to move forward.

MARGARET WARNER: The president spoke of his decision at a joint news conference today with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was making the first state visit of the Obama presidency.

BARACK OBAMA: After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job.

And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we’re doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Obama was said to have considered options of between 10,000 and 40,000 additional troops. Recent reports suggest he’s settled on the 30,000-to-35,000 range. That would bring the total American contingent, both under NATO and U.S. command, to around 100,000. An additional 35,000 troops from other NATO countries are also serving.

At the same time, casualties continue rising there. Another U.S. soldier was killed Monday, bringing this year’s total to 291, nearly double the toll of 2008.

And there will be greater economic costs. Last night’s strategy meeting included, for the first time, the White House budget director, Peter Orszag. An analysis this week said each extra soldier deployed will cost the U.S. $1 million annually. So, 35,000 more troops would mean an additional $35 billion a year.

With that in mind, the president today underscored the need for NATO to beef up its role and for Afghans to shoulder more of the burden.

Pledging to 'finish the job'

BARACK OBAMA: It's going to be very important to recognize that the Afghan people ultimately are going to have to provide for their own security, and so we'll be discussing that process whereby Afghan security forces are properly trained and equipped to do the job.

And it's going to be important to recognize that, in order for us to succeed there, you've got to have a comprehensive strategy that includes civilian and diplomatic efforts.

MARGARET WARNER: Both Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Singh referenced India's increasing role in Afghanistan, through financial aid.

MANMOHAN SINGH, Prime Minister, India: It is important for the international community to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan to help its emergence as a modern state.

MARGARET WARNER: India's involvement has rankled Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the east and India's longtime rival.

But the president urged Pakistan to play a greater part in the broader anti-terrorism effort, too, in policing its side of the border.

BARACK OBAMA: Pakistan has an enormously important role in the security of the region, by making sure that the extremist organizations that often operate out of its territories are dealt with effectively.

And we've seen some progress. So my hope is, is that over time what we're going to see is further clarity and further cooperation between all the parties and all peoples of good will in the region to eradicate terrorist activity.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Obama will also need cooperation in Congress, where his national security team will fan out to explain his new strategy.

Secretary of State Clinton, Secretary of Defense Gates, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, and the overall commander, General Stanley McChrystal, will testify at hearings next week.