2011: Obama's Plan for Escalation and Withdrawal in Afghanistan

In a background-only White House briefing – no names for publication - administration officials this afternoon provided some details on what Barack Obama, in his role as Commander in Chief, will say in his speech on Afghanistan in a few hours.

He will reaffirm his core goal as announced in March – to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al Qaeda and prevent their return.

To carry out the policies the President has chosen, 30,000 more U.S. troops will be sent, adding to the 33,000 sent since March, and setting the full deployment at 98,000. By week’s end, NATO’s secretary-general is expected to announce a still-undecided troop increase from that organization. As there are 42,000 NATO troops already in place, the increase is likely to bring the full array of Western forces in Afghanistan close to 150,000.

The U.S. troops will be in place by summer 2010. It was pointed out that this is faster than any of the options the President was presented with by General Stanley McChrystal in his strategic assessment presented in late August.

These troops will focus on defeating al Qaeda and reversing the momentum of the Taliban, which has been steadily growing ever since the Bush administration moved resources to the Iraq war in 2003. They will seek to secure key areas in the southern portion of the country, train Afghan military forces and try to build a new partnership with the government.

The plan is to begin transferring authority for security to Afghan forces by July 2011. But it was made repeatedly clear that this is only the starting date for such a transfer. The speed of the transfer, and its completion date, will depend on progress on the ground. While some have said that three years is the goal, an administration official that no such number will be included in the speech. After July 2011, how fast the process runs will be the President's call.

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