Obama to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 1st half of 2010

by Takehiko Kajita

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a surge of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first half of 2010, but promised to begin withdrawing some of the forces in July 2011.

The faster-than-anticipated deployment to prop up the 68,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan, as well as the endgame to the eight-year-old war, were unveiled in a high-stakes speech he gave at West Point U.S. Military Academy.

Obama's new strategy, which comes on the heels of months-long Afghan policy review, is intended to destroy al-Qaida, step up the battle against the Taliban insurgency and train the Afghan army.

''The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 -- the fastest pace possible -- so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers,'' he said.

''They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight,'' he said. ''And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.''

Obama also said the United States wants the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other partners to follow suit and send more troops, and voiced confidence that the request will be fulfilled soon.

''Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead,'' he said.

The president said the troop increase is likely to cost the United States about $30 billion more per year and that Washington will work closely with Congress to address these costs, while trying to bring down the swelling U.S. deficit.

On an exit strategy, Obama said he will start withdrawing some of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan in July 2011 -- ahead of his expected reelection bid the following year.

''Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011,'' he said.

U.S. and coalition forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for more than eight years in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks against the United States.

''Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul,'' Obama said.

''But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country,'' he said.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Dec. 1, 2009)