Obama Announces New Strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan

Heavy emphasis on training additional Afghan security forces

Washingto, DC (RPRN) 03/30/09– — Saying it is an international security challenge of the highest order, President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that aims to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In addition to 17,000 U.S. troops and Marines that are being deployed to Afghanistan in the coming months to join the 38,000 already there, Obama said he also is ordering 4,000 more troops who will act as trainers for the Afghan army. That training force will come from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, which is stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and will be in place early this fall.

“We will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of the Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country,” Obama said at a briefing March 27 in Washington. “For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police.”

Every American combat unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and more trainers will be requested from NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner, Obama said. The goal, the president said, is to build the Afghan army from about 80,000 troops to 134,000 and expand the national police force from 78,000 to 82,000 officers. Currently, the total number of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan is 70,140 troops, according to the Pentagon and NATO.

The announcement comes as Obama prepares to attend the 60th anniversary NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, April 3–4. NATO leads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the alliance’s future course there will be a central topic at the summit. The summit has added significance because it will be Obama’s first trip to Europe since becoming president January 20.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend a United Nations conference on Afghanistan March 31 in The Hague, Netherlands. She will join representatives from more than 80 nations.

While the new strategy sets the terms for helping Pakistan enhance its own security as well as that of Afghanistan, the president has set no timetable for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. He previously set a timetable to withdraw the majority of U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by August 2010 and all remaining forces there by the end of 2011.

Obama said achieving stability on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border eventually will allow the United States and its allies to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. Members of the al-Qaida terrorist group and the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan before being routed by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001, are believed to be hiding in the tribal regions of northwestern Pakistan in the Hindu Kush mountain range that straddles eastern and central Afghanistan, northwestern Pakistan and northwestern India.

In addition, Obama said he has asked the U.S. Congress to approve legislation authorizing $1.5 billion in direct support to Pakistan every year over the next five years. The funds would be used to build schools, roads and hospitals as well as to strengthen Pakistan’s democracy. The legislation is being sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and the committee’s ranking Republican, Senator Richard Lugar.

Obama is also calling on Congress to pass legislation to create opportunity zones in the Afghan-Pakistan border region to develop the economy and bring stability in areas plagued by continual violence.

Obama said he is increasing civilian support to Afghanistan in the form of specialists in agriculture, education, engineering, the law and economics. “That’s how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs,” the president said.

Obama also said the United States will not be acting alone. It will include a new contact group for Afghanistan involving the United Nations, NATO allies and other partners from the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations, Iran, Russia, India and China, he said.

“None of these nations benefit from a base for al-Qaida terrorists and a region that descends into chaos,” he said. “The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan.”

The conflict in Afghanistan was thrust on the United States because of the al-Qaida-led terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Obama said. But there have been al-Qaida-inspired attacks on other countries of the world since that time. Most of the blood on al-Qaida’s hands is that of Muslims, and the future the terrorist group offers to the Muslim world is one without hope or opportunity, and a future without justice or peace, the president said.

The president spoke by telephone March 26 with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to brief them on his plans. The new strategy has been under development from the day Obama took office. Consultations have been held with U.S. national security officials, the armed forces, NATO, both the Afghan and Pakistani governments, international organizations and donors, and members of Congress, the president said.

The full text of Obama’s statement is available on America.gov.

What foreign affairs decisions should President Obama consider? Comment on America.gov’s blog.

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