President Obama addressed questions about his upcoming announcement on a revised strategy in Afghanistan during a news conference Tuesday after talks at the White House with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.
President Obama addressed questions about his upcoming announcement on a revised strategy in Afghanistan during a news conference Tuesday after talks at the White House with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. Gerald Herbert/AP
Pledging to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, President Obama said Tuesday that he will be making an announcement "shortly" on his new strategy, which is expected to involve deploying thousands of extra U.S. soldiers.
Asked when he planned to offer details on his decision, Obama would only say that it would not happen until after Thanksgiving. But sources tell NPR's Tom Bowman that the White House is tentatively planning a Dec. 1 announcement.
"I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, they will be supportive," Obama said during his joint news conference with visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "This is important not just for the United States, but it's important to the world."
Obama did not specifically address the notion of a troop increase. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has been pressing for an additional 40,000 U.S. troops, on top of the 68,000 currently in Afghanistan.
But in recent weeks, Obama has made it clear that any troop surge would have to be accompanied by a broader strategic shift that would eventually pave the way for an exit strategy for U.S. troops.
Obama did offer some hints about where the strategy is headed, including an expected emphasis on boosting the pace of training for Afghan security forces.
"It's going to be very important to recognize that the Afghan people ultimately are going to have to provide for their own security," Obama said. "And so we'll be discussing that process whereby Afghan security forces are properly trained and equipped to do the job."
He also said that there will be important civilian and diplomatic components to his planned strategic shift.
More broadly, Obama is likely to use his upcoming announcement as a venue to boost the flagging support among the American people for the Afghan war effort.
Pete Souza/AP/The White House
President Obama holds a meeting on Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House on Monday.
President Obama holds a meeting on Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House on Monday. Pete Souza/AP/The White House
"I can tell you, as I've said before, that it is in our strategic interest, in our national security interest, to make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively in those areas," Obama said. "We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities, and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan's stability is important to that process."
In recent weeks, the Obama administration has been on the defensive as many Republicans have accused the White House of taking too long to make a decision on sending more troops.
In an implicit response to Republican critics, Obama made reference to the Bush administration's neglect of the Afghan conflict.
"I've also indicated that after eight years — some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done — it is my intention to finish the job," Obama said.
The president's speech will be the opening round in a new sales effort by the administration. Top officials, including McChrystal and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will be heading to Capitol Hill shortly afterward to present the new strategy in greater detail.
They have a tough job ahead of them. Opinion polls have shown support for the Afghan war effort slipping as U.S. casualties hit record levels.
Another challenge will be convincing both Congress and the American people that an Afghan government riddled by corruption and incompetence can be a capable and reliable partner.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn into office last week for his second term after a widely disputed election marred by ballot tampering and other wrongdoing.
Karzai has pledged to crack down on corruption, and the Afghan attorney general's office announced on Tuesday that it has launched investigations into three Cabinet ministers and 12 former ministers.
But deep doubts remain in Washington and elsewhere about whether Karzai and his government will be able to hold up their end of any new strategic effort made by the Obama administration.