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How Would Obama’s Troops Decision Impact Afghan War?

Margaret Warner sits down with two reporters who cover the Pentagon to sort through the various options President Obama is likely weighing as he prepares to make an announcement on the war in Afghanistan.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The White House said today, Mr. Obama would address the nation on Tuesday, at 8:00 p.m., from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

    Margaret Warner has more on the options.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    On Monday night, President Obama wrapped up the last of 10 meetings with his national security team. For months, they have been reviewing and debating troop increase options for Afghanistan, reportedly ranging from 10,000 to 80,000. The options were presented by his new commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal.

    They would augment the — augment the 68,000 U.S. troops there now. NATO countries have contributed another 35,000.

    For more on what could be done with different options, we turn to Elisabeth Bumiller, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, and Mark Thompson, national security correspondent for TIME magazine.

    Welcome to you both.

    First of all, Elisabeth, what was really the range of options that was given active consideration here?

  • ELISABETH BUMILLER:

    It was really 40,000 to 10,000. The White House quickly discarded the 80,000 option as — as — as way too big and not doable with the army that the United States has right now.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So, if we — let's start at the high end, 40,000. Based on the unclassified memo that everybody has seen of General McChrystal's, and your own reporting, what would he — what is he likely to do, if he were to get that many troops?

  • ELISABETH BUMILLER:

    The consensus is that he would send a large number of troops to the south, perhaps 15,000 troops to Kandahar Province, which is the Taliban heartland, to try and get control of that province.

    And there would be another perhaps 5,000 sent to Helmand Province, which is the breadbasket of Afghanistan. It's the center of the opium culture, where poppies grow and where the Taliban control a lot of the poppy crop. And, therefore, it's a big source of income for them.

    The United States would like to see more pomegranates and wheat and other grains grown there. Probably another 5,000 would be sent to the east, to the border of Pakistan, to what — the three provinces that border south — north and south Waziristan and Pakistan, which is the al-Qaida stronghold.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Is that — is that what you're picking up, Mark? And — and, if so, why the focus on Kandahar? That would really be a new venture for the U.S. That's where the British troops have been.

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