Barack Obama has begun one of the toughestsales jobs of his presidency, privately announcing his sweepingoverhaul of the U.S. Afghan strategy to top military and civilianadvisers in Washington and Kabul as well as to key allies.
Obama is outlining his decision to the public Tuesday night in anationally broadcast address from the U.S. Military Academy at WestPoint, N.Y., a strategy that will include deploying thousands moreAmerican forces to Afghanistan, clarifying why the U.S. is fightingthe war and laying out a path toward disengagement.
He began the rollout on Sunday, the White House said, talkingfirst with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by phone andthen informing other key administration advisers such as DefenseSecretary Robert Gates in an evening Oval Office meeting.
It was at that time, said spokesman Robert Gibbs, that Obama'sorder for the military to go ahead with the new deployments becameofficial. The goal of the president's revamped approach is to trainAfghan security forces to eventually take over from the U.S., andObama will say Tuesday that he doesn't plan an open-ended U.S.commitment, the spokesman said.
Immediately after the Sunday session, the president called ArmyGen. Stanley McChrystal, his top commander in Afghanistan, and theU.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. On Monday, Obamaalso began a series of calls to foreign leaders, starting withFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy, to be followed later in the dayby British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Russian President DmitryMedvedev. The leaders were getting an overview of the new policy,but not specific troop numbers, Gibbs said.
The president plans to speak with Afghan President Hamid Karzaiand Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari before his speech, mostlikely Monday night, Gibbs added.
In Congress, Democrats already are setting tough conditions - ifnot outright opposition to a deeper U.S. involvement - and theAmerican public is increasingly negative about the 8-year-oldconflict that has become a serious drain on U.S. resources in adeeply troubled economic period. Casualties have increased sharplyand are likely to grow more with the addition of more troops.
Congressional uneasiness or opposition was voiced Sunday by theleading Senate Democrat on military matters, who said any plan tosignificantly expand U.S. troop levels must show how thosereinforcements will help increase the number of Afghan securityforces.
Remarks by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the SenateArmed Services Committee, were a preview of the possible roadblocksas the president begins to sell a broader, more expensive battleplan for Afghanistan to an American public weary of the conflict.
Greater numbers of Afghan army and police are central tosucceeding in the war, according to Levin, and more U.S. trainersand an infusion of battlefield gear will help meet that goal. ButLevin said that it's not clear what role the tens of thousands ofadditional U.S. combat troops would play in that buildup, and hesaid Obama has to make a compelling case for it on Tuesday.
"The key here is an Afghan surge, not an American surge,"Levin said. "We cannot, by ourselves, win (the) war."
Another facet of Obama's plan appears to be an expandedpartnership with Pakistan as part of U.S. pressure on thatcountry's shaky government to do more to root out extremists basedalong Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Obama had sent a letterto Zardari saying the U.S. planned no early withdrawal fromAfghanistan and will increase its military and economic cooperationwith Pakistan. The Post, quoting unidentified administrationofficials, also said that Obama called for closer collaborationagainst extremist groups, including five named in the letter.
The letter, delivered by national security adviser James Jones,reportedly included a blunt warning that the U.S. would nottolerate support within Pakistan's military and intelligenceoperations of extremists fighting in Afghanistan.
At West Point, Obama was expected to announce an increase of upto 35,000 more U.S. forces to defeat the Taliban-led insurgency andstabilize a weak Afghan government. The escalation, which wouldtake place over the next year, would put more than 100,000 Americantroops in Afghanistan at an annual cost of about $75 billion.
Obama is also expected to outline an exit strategy for the war.
Democrats concerned over the price tag have proposed a war taxto pay for operations. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of theHouse Appropriations Committee, has introduced legislation toimpose a war surtax beginning in 2011. The bill would exemptservice members and their families.
"If this war is important enough to engage in the long term,it's important enough to pay for," Obey said.
Lawmakers also want a greater commitment from NATO allies so theU.S. isn't footing the bill on its own.
"I've got a real problem about expanding this war where therest of the world is sitting around and saying, 'Isn't it a nicething that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. militaryare doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?"'said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Brown has said that several allied nations will offer a total of5,000 more troops. Speaking Saturday at a news conference inTrinidad, Brown also said Karzai's government must meet specificbenchmarks that allow foreign troops to gradually hand over controlof the fighting to local forces.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the ForeignRelations Committee, said he was wary of strict benchmarks that putboth sides in an untenable situation if they're not met. But hesaid an early test of success will be whether Afghan forces canhold onto southern parts of the country after the U.S.-ledcoalition succeeds in chasing out the Taliban.
McChrystal wants an overall Afghan security force of 400,000 -240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police officers - by October 2013.
Levin has proposed moving that date forward a year to 2012. Hesays the manpower is available to support the faster timetable.
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee: http://foreign.senate.gov/
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