WEST POINT, New York A strategy in Afghanistan also must work in Pakistan to address a cancer that has taken root in the border region, US President Barack Obama said Tuesday as he ordered 30,000 more troops to the war-torn country by next summer to counter a resurgent Taliban before beginning a troop withdrawal in 18 months.
We will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan, Obama told hundreds of cadets packing Eisenhower Hall at the US military academy at West Point, about 60 miles north of New York.
We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer (of extremism) from once again spreading through that country, Obama said during the nationally televised speech. 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.
Obama said a key element in stabilising Pakistan was providing support to the countrys security efforts because of the threat Pakistan faces from internal extremists. The days of a narrowly focused relationship with Pakistan are gone, Obama said. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust, the President said.
We will strengthen Pakistans capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cant tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear.
Besides a partnership with the Pakistani military, Obama re-affirmed developing a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistani civilian government to meet its political and economic needs.
That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border, he said, more than eight years after Al-Qaeda launched the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington from bases in Afghanistan.
In the past there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence, he said. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned, the president said.
Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy, he said.
Speaking to the Pakistani people, Obama said, America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistans security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
Earlier on Tuesday, Obama spoke with President Asif Zardari about the U.S. strategy on Pakistan and Afghanistan by telephone, the White House said.
America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistans democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting, he said. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistans security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
But The New York Times citing administration officials said on Wednesday Pakistan would prove to be a far more intractable problem in the long-term than Afghanistan.
Additional spies to Pakistan
Administration officials said that Obama had signed off on a plan by the Central Intelligence Agency to expand CIA activities in Pakistan, the newspaper said. The plan calls for more strikes against militants by drone aircraft, sending additional spies to Pakistan and securing a White House commitment to bulk up the CIAs budget for operations inside the country.
The expanded operations could include drone strikes in the southern province of Balochistan where senior Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, officials said.
Addressing critics who have likened Afghanistan to Vietnam, Mr. Obama called the comparison a false reading of history. And he spoke directly to the American people about the tough road ahead. Let me be clear: none of this will be easy, Mr. Obama said. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world.
With the economy weak and the issue of jobs foremost on Americans minds, the president conceded that the new strategy would carry an expensive price tag, which he put at an additional $30 billion in the first year.
Yet with some Democrats talking of a war surtax, Obama offered no details of how he intended to pay for his new policy, saying only that he was committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly.
White House advisers said they expected the administration would do so in the coming weeks, as officials including Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testify on Capitol Hill starting Wednesday.
The approach laid out by Obama - not so much a new strategy as a doubling down on the one he embraced earlier this year - incorporated the basic goals and came close to the force levels proposed in the counterinsurgency plan that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, put forward in September.
In that report, General McChrystal said, in stark language, that unless significantly more troops were sent, the war in Afghanistan was likely to be lost.
But by including an explicit timetable to begin a withdrawal, Obama highlighted the seemingly conflicting pressures defining the debate over how to proceed: to do what is necessary to ensure that the region is not a launching pad for attacks on the United States and its allies, and to disengage militarily as quickly as possible.
Senior administration officials suggested, however, that any initial withdrawal starting in mid-2011 could be very limited, depending on the military situation at that point.
The initial political reactions showed the crosscurrents facing the White House. Republicans applauded the buildup of troops but questioned the commitment to a timetable for bringing them home.
Setting a draw-down date before this surge has even begun is a mistake, and it sends a mixed message to both our friends and our enemies regarding our long-term commitment to success, said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. But among many Democrats, the response ranged from noncommittal to outright opposition.
I see no good reason for us to send another 30,000 or more troops to Afghanistan when we have so many pressing issues - like our economy - to deal with in this country, said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Democrat of New York.
Obama is calculating, administration officials said, that the explicit promise of a drawdown will impress upon the Afghan government that his commitment is not open-ended.
The new Afghanistan strategy draws heavily on lessons learned from former president George W. Bushs surge and strategy shift in Iraq in 2007, which Obama opposed.
In addition to the influx of troops and the training of the Afghan Army, administration officials said they were taking other lessons from the Iraq buildup, like empowering local security forces to stand up to Taliban militants in their communities and enhancing the training of national forces by embedding American troops with Afghan counterparts and later pairing American and Afghan units to fight side by side.
The 30,000 troops that Obama is sending are part of what one administration official characterized as a short-term, high-intensity effort to regain the initiative against the Taliban.
Administration officials said that they were hoping to get a commitment for an additional 5,000 to 8,000 troops from NATO allies - perhaps as early as Friday at a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels - which would bring the number of additional troops in Afghanistan to close to the 40,000 that General McChrystal was seeking.
Obama is sending three of the four brigades requested by General McChrystal. The first Marines will begin arriving as early as Christmas, and all forces will be in place by May, a senior administration official said.