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Troop surge

December 2, 2009

US President Barack Obama has underlined his determination to pacify Afghanistan by pledging an additional 30,000 troops. Washington hopes this will pave the way for a gradual withdrawal starting in 2011.

US President Barack Obama
Obama is determined to conclude NATO's Afghan mission successfullyImage: AP

US President Barack Obama pledged the troop increase for Afghanistan during a televised keynote speech at West Point military academy on Tuesday.

"The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers," Obama said.

The move raises the US contingent in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000 troops. Obama stressed the move was necessary to fight a persisting threat of terrorist attacks.

"I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda," Obama said.

Troop withdrawal to start in 2011

However, Obama stressed that the mission would not be open-ended and that he planned bringing back the troops after 18 months.

ISAF soldiers secure the site of the car bomb, outside the entrance to the military airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday,Sept. 8, 2009.
The Taliban have stepped up their attacks in recent monthsImage: AP

"These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," Obama said.

It is the first time that Washington has mentioned a specific starting date for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Obama’s speech was aimed at reassuring Americans that there is an exit strategy for US forces in Afghanistan, while conveying to allies and the Taliban that Washington remains committed to the fight.

However, the president stressed that a viable exit strategy depended on Afghans shouldering more responsibility, especially in the area of security.

"But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."

Costly deployment in times of economic crisis

Washington hopes the troop surge will be sufficient to quell a growing Taliban insurgency which has been gathering momentum since international forces entered Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

However, critics point out that the overall NATO deployment will fall short of the 40,000-strong extra force requested by war commander General Stanley McChrystal.

US General Stanley McChrystal
McChrystal has long been calling for more troops to take on the TalibanImage: AP

But Washington’s resources are limited in times economic crisis, and the bill for the announced troop surge will cost some 30 billion dollars in fiscal year 2010, an administration official said on Tuesday.

Washington has been looking to its NATO allies to take on more of the burden in Afghanistan, and Obama reiterated this demand during his speech.

"We are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead," Obama said.

Obama's appeal was echoed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who called on allies to follow Washington's lead and substantially boost their troop presence in Afghanistan.

"I expect at least 5,000 more forces from other countries in our alliance and possibly a few thousand more," Rasmussen said in a televised statement, released on Wednesday.

Flagging support in NATO countries

However, opinion polls show that European NATO members, incudling Germany, are facing growing public opposition to the Afghanistan mission. As a result, European troop pledges have so far fallen short of US expectations.

Britain has offered an additional 500 troops, and Italy has said it will send an unspecified number, while Poland is considering deploying several hundred more soldiers.

France has ruled out sending more combat troops, while hinting at the possibility of sending more military trainers, paramilitary police or supplies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel wants more time to decide on extra personnelImage: picture alliance/dpa

The German government is struggling to contain a widening Afghanistan controversy, which flared last week after former defense minister Franz Josef Jung was forced to drop out of the cabinet over an alleged cover-up in connection with a September airstrike that also claimed the lives of Afghan civilians.

Speaking at a joint news conference with visiting Pakistani Prime Yusuf Raza Gilani in Berlin on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that Berlin would not be forced into making any hasty decisions prior to a major Afghanistan conference scheduled for January 28 in London.

"After the conference ... Germany will decide whether, and if necessary, what additional efforts we can make. We hear the wishes of the United States but we will not decide in the coming days but after the conference."

The German lower house of parliament is expected to extend the current Afghanistan mandate on Thursday, while sticking to the upper limit of 4,500 soldiers. Such a move would not leave much room for additional troops since Germany already has some 4,300 German soldiers in Afghanistan.


Editor: John Kluempers