Obama Lays Groundwork For Afghanistan Address
One day before he announces his Afghanistan plans in a nationally televised speech, President Obama on Monday briefed allies about the strategy, which a White House spokesman said will include the deployment of thousands more U.S. troops and a strategy for bringing them home.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president plans to tell Americans that his goal is to help the Afghanistan government identify, recruit and train Afghans to fulfill security and policing responsibilities, paving the way for U.S. troops to pull out.
"I think the president will reiterate tomorrow ... that this is not an open-ended commitment — that we are there to partner with the Afghans, to train the Afghan national security forces, the army and the police, so that they can provide security for their country and wage a battle against an unpopular insurgency in that country," Gibbs said at an afternoon briefing.
Obama is scheduled to lay out his plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan in a televised speech at 8 p.m. EST Tuesday from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
During the speech, Obama also will discuss renewed diplomatic efforts with Pakistan that aim to root out violent extremists operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Gibbs said.
Obama will touch on the cost of the operations in Afghanistan, but Gibbs said he doubted the speech would be "overly detailed." Gibbs turned aside questions about a possible war tax to pay for the effort.
The president spent much of Monday briefing U.S. allies about the plan. He met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the Oval Office and telephoned British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
"I think there's no doubt ... this is an international effort. This is not one country's problem, because terrorism does not affect just one country, or quite frankly, one region of the world. It affects London. It affects Madrid. It affects a whole host of areas," Gibbs said.
Obama also plans to talk to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and other world leaders before he addresses the American people Tuesday night, Gibbs said. He discussed Afghanistan with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
On Sunday night, Obama called a meeting with top-level advisers. Gibbs said the president spoke by phone with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then briefed Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones. Obama also called U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan; and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Kabul, Gibbs said.
McChrystal wants an overall Afghan security force of 400,000 — 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police officers — by October 2013.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) has said any plan to expand troop levels must demonstrate how the reinforcements would help Afghans help themselves.
Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has introduced legislation to impose a war surtax beginning in 2011. The bill would exempt service members and their families. Lawmakers also want a greater commitment from NATO allies so the U.S. isn't footing the bill on its own.
"I've got a real problem about expanding this war where the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, 'Isn't it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?' " said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was wary of strict benchmarks that put both sides in an untenable situation if they're not met. But he said an early test of success will be whether Afghan forces can hold onto southern parts of the country after the U.S.-led coalition succeeds in chasing out the Taliban.
Contributing: NPR staff and wire service reports
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