- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009


President Barack Obama on Friday announced he will send 4,000 more troops this spring to Afghanistan, saying the situation in the more than seven-year-long war is “increasingly perilous” and pledging U.S. aid for Pakistan as part of an international diplomatic effort.

“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Obama, who opposed the Iraq war as “dumb” and distracting from the effort in Afghanistan, stressed the plan was a “comprehensive new strategy.”

He said al Qaeda is a “cancer” that threatens the entire region and said the United States and its allies would root out the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists,” he said.

Lawmakers overseeing defense issues lauded the long-expected move, the result of a review that began when Mr. Obama took office. But anti-war groups said they fear a sustained conflict and more deaths.

The president noted that 2008 was the deadliest year of the war and said he wants an international effort for the “campaign against extremism.”

“This is not simply an American problem,” he said, but rather “an international security challenge of the highest order.”

As anti-war groups compared his escalation plan to U.S. efforts in Vietnam, Mr. Obama said he understands voter concern about the purpose of the war and said his goal is to defeat “the terrorists who supported and planned the 9/11 attacks.”

He said the Afghan government cannot fall to the extremist Taliban or it would “again be a base for terrorists,” and said the influx of troops — 21,000 in total with the addition of 17,000 Mr. Obama sent earlier this year — will help train Afghan police.

Mr. Obama proposed tripling U.S. nonmilitary aid to Pakistan, giving the country $1.5 billion each year over the next five years and appointed veteran Amb. Richard Holbrooke to be “special representative” for both countries. He also said he wants an increased civilian effort to send teachers, doctors and other aid workers to the region.

“Our efforts will fail … if we don’t invest in their future,” he said, standing next to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

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