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Obama Unveils Strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan

By Kent Klein
The White House
27 March 2009

President Barack Obama has announced his plan to send about 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and increase diplomacy with Pakistan. He said his strategy has a clear and focused goal.

"To disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. 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," said the president.

Mr. Obama said, for Americans, the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is "the most dangerous place in the world," where those who planned the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States are plotting further attacks.

The estimated 4,000 new troops would join 17,000 additional combat and support troops the president wants in Afghanistan in the coming months. By October, the overall force level should reach 59,000.

The new plan shifts the emphasis of the U.S. mission to training and increasing the size of the Afghan security forces, so they can eventually take responsibility for their country's security.

Mr. Obama's strategy places an increased emphasis on Pakistan. He said Pakistan's stability depends on seeing al-Qaida and its allies defeated.

"They have killed many Pakistani soldiers and police. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto. They have blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. Make no mistake: al-Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," he said.

The president is asking Congress to authorize $1.5 billion in U.S. support for building schools, roads and hospitals in Pakistan, and legislation to develop the economy along the border, in addition to other diplomatic initiatives.

"Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we do not invest in their future. That is why my budget includes indispensable investments in our State Department and foreign assistance programs," he said.

However, the president is demanding that the Pakistani and Afghan governments account for how U.S. aid is spent, and that they reduce corruption. He said Washington "will not provide a blank check."

Mr. Obama said another important part of his strategy is a reconciliation process throughout Afghanistan, which might persuade some fighters to abandon the Taliban.

"There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course," the president added.

Mr. Obama said he will seek international military and financial support for his new strategy, mainly at next week's NATO summit.

"The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al-Qaida operates unchecked. We have a shared responsibility to act-not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends on it," he said.

The president has not revealed how much the new initiatives would cost, or how long he expects U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday. A U.S. official said the president was gratified by their responses.

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