WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Friday that he plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan, increase aid to Pakistan, and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in both countries. "The situation is increasingly perilous," Obama said in a speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and non-governmental aid groups. He said he would pour money into economic development in both countries, in addition to bearing down militarily on insurgent groups, in order to defeat anti-US extremists. Obama grimly warned - just as President George W Bush did repeatedly over the years - of intelligence estimates that Al-Qaeda "is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan". "We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," he added. "That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you. " "The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists," Obama said. But President Obama promised neither to write a "blank cheque" nor to "blindly stay the course" if his risky new strategy does not achieve its ambitious goals. Along with the 17,000 additional combat troops authorised last month Obama said he will send at least 4,000 more this fall to serve as trainers and advisers to an Afghan army expected to double in size over the next two years. In outlining his plan after a two-month review that began the week of his inauguration, Obama described a sharp break with what officials called a directionless and under-resourced conflict inherited from the Bush administration. "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," Obama said. "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?" Obama said Al-Qaeda's core leadership continues to plot against the United States from its base in Pakistan, and will do so in Afghanistan as well if the US-backed government there falls to Taliban forces. "We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," Obama said. "That is the goal that must be achieved." Obama called on Congress to approve $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan each year for the next five years. Officials who briefed reporters on Obama's strategy on Thursday said the administration, working with Congress, will develop new "benchmarks and metrics to measure our performance and that of our allies," including the Afghan and Pakistani governments. The key elements of Obama's plan, with its more robust combat force, its emphasis on training, and its far-reaching goals, foreshadow an ambitious to unify and stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that "an uncompromising core of the Taliban," the fundamentalist party that America and its allies ousted seven years ago, must be defeated militarily, but that other opposition forces "who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price", must be drawn back into the fold. Continuing, President Obama said, "It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after Al-Qaeda. 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 in rooting out terrorists and after years of mixed results we cannot and will not provide a blank cheque. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. "We will insist action be taken one way or the other when we have intelligence about high-level targets." Obama, who Thursday called President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the strategy, said the Pakistani government's ability to destroy these safe havens is tied to its own strength and security. "To help Pakistan weather the economic crisis, we must continue to work with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank and other international partners." In the regional security perspective, Obama was conscious of the historical tensions between India and Pakistan and the need to ease strains between the two South Asian powers over their disputes through constructive US diplomacy. "To lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed nations that too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation, we must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan." Obama said the Al-Qaeda leaders have moved into Pakistan after US dislodged their Afghan hosts, the Taliban from power in Kabul in post-9/11, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He said Pakistan-Afghanistan border region has become the most dangerous place in the world for the American people. Yet, he said, it is an international challenge of the highest order and in this respect referred to terrorist acts in Islamabad and other cities of the world. "The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists," he said, hours after a suicide bombing in Khyber tribal agency scores of lives. The incident underscored the severity of challenge in the Afghan-Pak border regions. Obama stressed the commonality of Pakistani and American peace and security goals and vowed a "lasting partnership with the Pakistani people", saying they share with Americans the desire to get rid of terrorist threat. "The United States has the greatest respect for the Pakistani people," he said, applauding their rich history and struggle for democracy in the country. "The people of Pakistan want the same things that we want - an end to terror, access to basic services, the opportunity to live their dreams and the security that can only come with the rule of law. "The single greatest threat to their future comes from Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. And that is why we must stand together." The terrorists, he said, killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani soldiers and police personnel. "Al-Qaeda and its extremists allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," he said urging the need for supporting Pakistan. To strengthen Pakistan's economy, he endorsed a bipartisan Congressional move to expand socio-economic assistance for Pakistan to $1.5 billion annually over at least five years, extendable to another five years. In this context, he urged passage of the measure that Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Ranking Republican Richard Lugar plan to introduce the landmark measure next week. He also called for enactment of legislation on establishing reconstruction opportunity zones under a preferential trade plan to kick-start economic activity and create jobs in the terrorism-afflicted areas. "A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al-Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorises $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years - resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy. "I'm also calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence. And we will ask our friends and allies to do their part - including at the donors conference in Tokyo next month." Obama said he does "not ask for this support lightly. "These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future - because the security of our two countries is shared. Pakistan's government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe havens, and we must isolate Al-Qaeda from the Pakistani people." The US President hinted at broadening the regional effort by looping in help from Russia, Iran, China and India in the stabilisation effort. "Together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region - our Nato allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. None of these nations benefit from a base for Al-Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development." He said Pakistan and Afghanistan are inextricably linked. "The road ahead will be long. There will be difficult days. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that serve the promise of a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future. Because the United States of America stands for peace and security, justice and opportunity. That is who we are, and that is what history calls on us to do once more." Agencies add: US President Barack Obama committed his Administration to support democratic Pakistan with robust economic and much-needed security assistance as he unveiled a relentless regional effort to "dismantle, disrupt and defeat" Al-Qaeda along Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. The people of the US and Pakistan face a common threat in the form of Al-Qaeda, he stressed, pledging a lasting partnership with the Pakistani people. He promised to provide military assistance to Pakistan and urged the US Congress to pass measures to bolster economic development in the country as part of an overall effort to help the ally ride out a difficult mix of economic and security challenges. The strategy places stabilising Pakistan at the centre of the reframed US approach for fighting an unfinished and bloody battle against Al-Qaeda, which Obama said suffered neglect during a US diversion to Iraq. He stated the purpose of US forces in Afghanistan is to crush Al-Qaeda and its allies in the region. The US is confronting a common enemy of it and its allies, he added. "Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe havens in Pakistan." Obama warned that if Pakistan would not act on intelligence on the whereabouts of terrorists, the United States would. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks Al-Qaeda and its allies had moved into the remote Pakistani frontier areas, Obama said. "This almost certainly includes Al-Qaeda's leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. "Attacks against our troops, our Nato allies, and the Afghan government have risen steadily. Most painfully, 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for American forces." The US President also called on US allies to join a major new civilian effort to stabilise Afghanistan, and warned Afghan leaders he would not turn a "blind eye" towards government corruption which he said undermined faith in its leaders. "I want to be clear: we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders," he said. "Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behaviour, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people." Warning the "safety of people around the world is at stake," Obama called on US allies and partners to join a civilian drive to improve reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.