Saying that fighting extremism in Afghanistan is vital to American national security, President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced the rapid deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. But what mattered most in the president's nationally televised speech from West Point was that he clearly defined the mission and the exit strategy for a conflict that he rightly described as having drifted for the past several years.
Obama's goals: "We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
His plan follows the wishes of his military advisers, though he will rely on the 40 other nations involved there to kick in some of the requested troops. It will create a combined force of about 150,000.
While Obama's strategy is sound, his timeline will require an amazing amount of work and more than a little good luck.
His plan states that the troop surge will arrive in Afghanistan within six months, and will set to work on shutting down the Taliban and al-Qaida in contentious areas, and training Afghan forces.
But the plan doesn't leave much time. Obama said U.S. forces will start to leave in 18 months, handing security over to those newly trained Afghan forces. Aides have said he wants almost all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan before his term ends, in January 2013. At that time, he expects the Afghan military to boast 240,000 soldiers, and the police to have another 160,000 security officers.
Today, after eight years of U.S. involvement, Afghanistan has about 95,000 soldiers, and 92,000 police. Obama's expectation will require a less corrupt and better functioning Afghan government, if it is to double its military strength so quickly. It's an ambitious goal.
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