He said reports that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, wants a major surge in U.S. forces “reaches too far, too fast.”
Gen. McChrystal understands the need for “a smart counterinsurgency in a limited geographic area,” Mr. Kerry said.
Mr. Obama, hours after presiding over his war council at the White House, told a crowd of 3,000 sailors and Marines in Florida that he will not rush a decision.
Criticized by former Vice President Dick Cheney for “dithering” over Afghanistan, Mr. Obama appeared in front of an enormous American flag and three rows of Navy sailors in dress whites. He spoke to a large crowd in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
“While I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this — and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way,” Mr. Obama said.
“I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt,” he said. “Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals, as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done.”
The president has given no signal whether he plans to increase U.S. troops beyond the 68,000 already slated to be in Afghanistan by the end of the year, or whether he’ll make a decision before the runoff election.
The crowd in Florida gave the president an enthusiastic reception, though there were pockets of troops that appeared more reserved and gave only paltry applause.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the speech was “a chance to say thank you.”
Mr. Obama also met with Gold Star families, the relatives of U.S. troops killed in the line of duty, before his speech.
The administration is weighing a series of options from Gen. McChrystal that range from sending no additional forces to deploying as many as 80,000 more troops.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave Gen. McChrystal a boost over the weekend, saying he supports the counterinsurgency strategy the general has proposed.
“The only way to ensure that Afghanistan does not become, once again, a safe haven for terrorists is if it is made strong enough to resist the insurgency as well,” Mr. Rasmussen said at a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Slovakia.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his advisers have proposed a more limited mission focusing on counterterrorism.