In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., Mr. Obama said the temporary surge of U.S. forces will deploy in early 2010 “so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.” He tempered his announcement with a pledge that troops would begin to come home after 18 months.
“These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan,” President Obama said.
Here is the full audio of President Obama’s speech:
President Obama said his new policy was designed to “bring this war to a successful conclusion.” The buildup will begin almost immediately with the first Marines in place by Christmas.
The president said the cost of the surge will be $30 billion for the first year, but he added that he would work with Congress to address the extra cost “as we work to bring down our deficit.”
“We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven,” the president said. “We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum. … And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government.”
The president outlined three main objectives in the new strategy: more troops, helping the Afghan government and people promote stability, and a better partnership with Pakistan to combat extremism.
“We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country,” the president 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.”
Mr. Obama said the threat from extremists is not an idle or hypothetical one: “In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al-Qaida can operate with impunity.”
While running for office, Mr. Obama said the Afghan war was worth fighting, as opposed to Iraq, a conflict he opposed and has since begun winding down U.S. efforts there.
A Gallup survey released Tuesday showed only 35 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s handling of the Afghan war while 55 percent disapprove.
Tuesday marked the second time in the president’s first year in office that he beefed up the U.S. force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently made significant advances. When he became president last January, there were roughly 34,000 troops on the ground; there now are 71,000 with another 30,000 on the way.
The president’s announcement drew less-than-wholehearted support from congressional Democrats, many of whom favor a quick withdrawal. But others have already proposed higher taxes to pay for the fighting.
The GOP reacted warily, as well. Officials said Sen. John McCain, who was Mr. Obama’s Republican opponent in last year’s presidential campaign, told the president at an early evening meeting attended by numerous lawmakers that declaring a timetable for a withdrawal would merely send the Taliban underground until the Americans began to leave.
After the speech, syndicated columnist Mark Shields said it was interesting that President Obama took such time to recount the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, dating back to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“He was almost making the case for Afghanistan like we’d forgotten,” Shields said on the NewsHour. “I think he felt it had to be done.”
New York Times columnist David Brooks said the speech was “very authoritative and very resolved,” but set severe time and cost limits.
“He defined victory in as limited a fashion as we’ve seen yet,” Brooks said.
Watch what Shields and Brooks had to say about the new Afghan strategy and the president’s speech unveiling it: