VIA: New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to announce Tuesday night that he will begin to transition American forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, setting the first time frame to wind down the war there nearly a decade after the United States first sent troops in to topple the Taliban government, senior administration officials said.
Mr. Obama will set the drawdown goal even as he orders another 30,000 troops to deploy to Afghanistan over the next six months in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban insurgents fighting to regain control of the country. By expediting the flow of reinforcements, officials said Mr. Obama hopes to create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces.
In bringing the total American force to nearly 100,000 troops by the end of May, the administration will move far faster than it had originally planned. Until recently, discussions focused on a deployment that would take a year, but Mr. Obama concluded that the situation required “more, sooner,” as one official said, explaining some of the central conclusions Mr. Obama reached at the end of a nearly three-month review of American war strategy.
The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that Mr. Obama will formally announce on Tuesday night in a nationally televised address from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The strategy aims to prevent Al Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan, whose territory it used to prepare the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and to keep Taliban insurgents from toppling the government there. The 30,000 new American troops will focus on securing a number of population centers in Afghanistan where the Taliban are strongest, including Kandahar in the south and Khost in the east, the officials said. The American forces, they said, will pair up with specific Afghan units in an effort to end eight years of frustrating attempts to build them into an independent fighting force.
Mr. Obama has concluded that the strategy for dealing with the Taliban should be to “degrade its ability,” in the words of one of the officials deeply involved in the discussions, so that the Afghan forces are capable of taking them on. At the same time the president’s strategy calls for “carving away at the bottom” of the Taliban’s force structure by reintegrating less committed members into tribes and offering them paid jobs in local and national military forces.
“We want to knock the Taliban back, giving us time and space to build the Afghans up mainly in the security front but also in governance and development as well,” said one senior administration official. By weakening the Taliban through a quick infusion of troops, the official said, the administration hopes to make it a more manageable enemy for the Afghans to take on themselves.
Hours before the speech, Senator John McCain of Arizona expressed support for sending more troops to Afghanistan but said he opposes a timetable. “Dates for withdrawal are dictated by conditions,” Mr. McCain, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “The way that you win wars is to break the enemy’s will, not to announce dates that you are leaving.”
Before flying to West Point, Mr. Obama and his top advisers spent much of the past 24 hours briefing allies and Congressional leaders. The president called President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at 10 p.m. on Monday and spent an hour discussing the new strategy, then called President Zardari of Pakistan at 10:35 a.m. on Tuesday, officials said. Mr. Obama also talked with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, both of whom have forces in Afghanistan.
The White House issued a statement praising Pakistan as it announced Mr. Obama’s call with Mr. Zardari. “The president recognized the profound sacrifices Pakistan has made in its efforts to combat extremists in its northwest and emphasized that our goal is to defeat Al Qaeda and to ensure stability in the region,” it said.
Five other Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, also reached out to their Pakistani counterparts on Tuesday, underscoring the importance and sensitivity of the relationship with Islamabad.
For Mr. Obama, the strategy is a huge gamble in a war that has already gone on for eight years. Polls show that Americans are increasingly tired of the conflict and doubtful of American goals.
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