- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

President Obama says he’ll know by the end of 2010 whether his Afghan strategy is working and pledges to change direction if the U.S. military is not on course “in terms of securing population centers” from Taliban militants.

The president also says his Dec. 1 speech ordering 30,000 more U.S. soldiers and Marines into the 8-year-old war “hit me in the gut” emotionally more than any he had given.

After doubling the U.S. force in Afghanistan in March, two months after taking office, Mr. Obama raised the stakes further by ordering a nearly 50 percent troop increase in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He issued the orders even as support for the war was crumbling among the public and opposed by many fellow Democrats in Congress.

Many observers said Mr. Obama appeared overly analytical and emotionally detached in ordering still more Americans into an increasingly violent mission against the Taliban to prevent its takeover of the Afghan government and a feared return of al Qaeda terrorists.

Not true, Mr. Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes,” in an interview taped Dec. 7 for broadcast Sunday night.

“You know, that was actually, probably, the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it,” the president said, “because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were going to be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.”

Mr. Obama also answered critics who saw ambiguity in ordering the big troop increase while then saying some of them probably would begin coming home in July 2011.

“We then start transitioning into a drawdown phase,” Mr. Obama repeated, noting that specifics were conditional. “How many U.S. troops are coming out, how quickly, will be determined by conditions on the ground.

“If the approach that’s been recommended doesn’t work, then yes, we’re going to be changing approaches,” he said. He quickly added that the deadline was necessary to alert the Afghan leadership that the United States was not going to make Afghanistan an American “protectorate.”

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