Obama Reveals His Plan for Afghanistan (It Ain't Troop Withdrawal)

Obama emphasized a renewed effort at combating al Qaeda and the Taliban.

President Obama, as expected, fleshed out a new U.S. policy towards Afghanistan this morning, emphasized a renewed effort at combating al Qaeda, and set benchmarks for the conflict for the first time. The new policy is the result of a two-month review that began almost immediately after the president's inauguration.

President Obama said on Friday that he plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban there and in Pakistan.

In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis, Mr. Obama is replicating a strategy used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod governments in the region to take more responsibility for quelling the insurgency and building lasting political institutions.

"The situation is increasingly perilous," Mr. Obama told government officials, top military officers and diplomats in remarks at the White House, warning that Al Qaeda and its allies are entrenched in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that they control parts of both countries, and that they are actively planning further attacks on the United States and its interests and allies.

His goal, he said, is "to disrupt, dismantle and defeat" them in both countries. That requires a strategy that is both "stronger and smarter," he said, and a commitment to Afghanistan that is not hobbled by the continuing costs of the war in Iraq.

Part of the new strategy, not surprisingly, will be 4,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan, specifically for the purpose of training Afghan security forces. Though some military leaders called for 30,000 more American troops on the ground, Obama decided not to send additional combat forces.

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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