WASHINGTON, Nov 30 – Barack Obama is set to make the boldest strategic move of his presidency on Tuesday and order a surge of tens of thousands more US troops into an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan.
In front of cadets at the prestigious West Point military academy, Obama is expected to announce between 30,000 and 35,000 reinforcements as part of a new Afghan strategy intended in his own words to "finish the job" there.
Obama also plans to lay out a specific timetable for ending the war in Afghanistan, The New York Times reported late Sunday.
Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said that the president wanted to use the address at West Point to convey his exit strategy.
"Its accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion," the paper quoted a senior official as saying.
"He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."
More than eight years after a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders accused of plotting the September 11 attacks in 2001, the president is also under pressure to lay out an exit strategy in his 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Wednesday) address to the American nation.
Many doubt the wisdom of escalating the conflict, with increasing numbers of troops being deployed as casualty rates soar, amid inevitable comparisons to the Vietnam War that ultimately doomed Lyndon Johnson\\\’s presidency.
There were 35,000 American soldiers fighting the Taliban-led insurgency when Obama became president. After an initial boost in February there are now about 68,000. Tuesday\\\’s announcement could see troop levels triple under his tenure.
"You have to learn lessons from history. On the other hand, each historical moment is different. You never step into the same river twice. And so Afghanistan is not Vietnam," Obama said in September.
His predecessor George W. Bush faced strong opposition when he sent an extra 20,000 troops into Iraq\\\’s 2007 surge — a move widely credited with helping stem the chaos and improving security there — so does Obama.
More than 900 American soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and October was the deadliest month since the start of the war in 2001 with 74 US soldiers killed.
Apart from the human toll, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost 768.8 billion dollars and by the end of this fiscal year (October 2010) the price tag will approach one trillion.
Piling more pressure on a stretched US military, the surge will also expand America\\\’s huge budget deficit, and Obama\\\’s Democratic allies fear the war\\\’s cost will suck hundreds of billions from vital projects at home.
Obama will therefore insist the renewed US engagement is neither unlimited nor unconditional and that the cause is clear: to prevent the region from serving as a base for attacks against the United States — far from the grandiose notion of installing democracy espoused by the Bush administration.
He will make the training of Afghan forces imperative and impress upon corruption tainted Afghan President Hamid Karzai, re-elected to a second term after disputed elections in August, the need to improve his governance.
An international conference in London aimed at setting clear goals in Afghanistan was announced on Saturday by Britain and France and won swift support from Washington.
Karzai has to realize "that there will be milestones by which he\\\’s going to be judged and he\\\’s got to accept that there will be benchmarks which the international community will set," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Obama is also seeking thousands more troops from reluctant NATO allies.
The military alliance, whose 42,000-strong contribution swells the number of foreign forces in Afghanistan to about 110,000, will discuss sending more troops at a ministerial-level meeting on Thursday and Friday in Brussels.
But key NATO members have cautioned that they will wait until after the London conference in January before deciding whether to commit more resources.
"There are real questions in our publics about the way forward, politically and not just militarily," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.
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A poll released Wednesday showed Americans divided on whether to dispatch more US troops, with half of those surveyed backing escalation while 39 percent said it was time to begin withdrawing forces.
The US Senate published a report on the eve of Obama\\\’s announcement that concludes that Bin Laden was "within the grasp" of US forces in late 2001, only two months after the invasion, but escaped because then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected calls for reinforcements.
"Our inability to finish the job in late 2001 has contributed to a conflict today that endangers not just our troops and those of our allies, but the stability of a volatile and vital region,"