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Obama Sets Plan to Boost Afghan Stability, Confront Taliban and Al-Qaida

President Obama's new strategy for the Afghanistan war includes 4,000 more troops and assistance to Pakistan in its fight against militants. Special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, and Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus explain the plan.

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    The president began with a blunt appraisal of where things stand in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region:


    The situation is increasingly perilous. It has been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan.


    Mr. Obama said that means the current U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan must be integrated into a regional counter-insurgency and development strategy to stabilize not only the Afghan front, but Pakistan as well.


    Many people in the United States — and many in partner countries that have sacrificed so much — have a simple question: What is our purpose in Afghanistan? After so many years, they ask, why do our men and women still fight and die there? They deserve a straightforward answer.

    So let me be clear: Al-Qaida and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.

    So I want the American people to understand that 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.

    To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq.


    More troops are already on the way. President Bush deployed 3,000 additional American soldiers to Afghanistan before he left office — and President Obama had recently authorized sending another 17,000 soldiers and Marines. The first of them will arrive at the end of next month.

    Today's announcement also aims to bolster the training of Afghan forces. The president is sending 4,000 additional U.S. trainers — from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The goal — announced earlier — is to double the size of the Afghan Army to 134,000 by 2011. The police force would increase to 82,000.

    In addition to the troop increase, hundreds more U.S. civilian workers are headed to Afghanistan. Their mission is to help renew a government widely seen as corrupt and ineffectual. A spokesman for Afghan President Karzai said today his country agrees with the new policy.


    We particularly welcome the recognition of the regional aspect of the problem in Afghanistan, and specifically, recognition that the al-Qaida threat is mainly emanating from Pakistan.


    There were violent incidents in both countries, just hours before President Obama spoke. An Afghan soldier killed two American troops, then killed himself. And in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed at least 50 worshipers at a mosque near the Afghan border.

    As part of his plan, the president called for stepped-up military cooperation among the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan to go after militants in the tribal wilds of Pakistan. He also made clear the U.S. will demand better performance from Pakistan's military and intelligence service, the ISI.


    It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al-Qaida. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, they are rugged, and they are often ungoverned. That is why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results, we will not and cannot provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al-Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders.


    On the civilian side, the president also called for Congress to pass the so-called "Kerry-Lugar" bill of economic development aid to help stabilize Pakistan. It would total one-and-a-half billion dollars per year for five years. The Pakistani foreign minister said today his government approves of the reoriented American focus:

  • SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI, Pakistan Foreign Minister:

    I think there was too much emphasis of use on brute force, too much reliance on the military option. And not enough attention was paid to capacity building.


    Mr. Obama plans to enlist a host of nations in building that capacity — he said today it is "not simply an American problem." He'll press his case next week at a NATO meeting in Europe. And Secretary of State Clinton will attend a U.N. conference on Afghanistan — at The Hague — on Tuesday.

    I sat down with Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus right after the president's announcement.

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