Obama: Taliban, al-Qaida must be stopped
Posted March 27, 2009 9:53 a.m. EDT
Updated March 27, 2009 5:23 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday ordered 4,000 more military troops into Afghanistan, vowing to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" the terrorist al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
The 82nd Airborne Division's 4th Combat Brigade Team has been ramping up training in recent weeks to prepare for deployment, but Fort Bragg officials declined to confirm Friday whether any 82nd Airborne troops would be part of the additional deployment Obama ordered.
"The Department of Defense has not made a decision on what units will deploy to support the mission in Afghanistan," 82nd Airborne spokesman Lt. Col. Clarence Counts said in an e-mail to WRAL News. "Our paratroopers maintain a high state of combat readiness and are trained and prepared to deploy when the nation calls."
In addition to the 4th Brigade Combat Team's training, other signs pointed to the likelihood that Fort Bragg troops would be part of the Afghanistan plan. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team is commonly referred to as a "global response force," and some soldiers in the 1st Brigade Combat Team have heard rumors that they could be diverted to Afghanistan from a planned Iraq deployment this summer.
A source in the Pentagon told The Fayetteville Observer that Fort Bragg troops would be the backbone of Obama's plan, working in 10- to 14-person advisory teams to train and assist the Afghan National Army.
In a war that still has no end in sight, the president said the fresh infusion of U.S. forces is designed to bolster the Afghan army and turn up the heat on terrorists that he said are plotting new attacks against Americans. The plan takes aim at terrorist havens in Pakistan and challenges the government there and in Afghanistan to show more results.
Obama called the situation in the region "increasingly perilous" more than seven years after the Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan.
"If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged," Obama said, "that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."
He announced the troop deployment, as well as plans to send hundreds of additional civilians to Afghanistan, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top intelligence and national security figures at his side. The announcement followed a policy review Obama launched not long after taking the oath of office.
The 4,000 troops come not long after the new administration approved the dispatch of an additional 17,000 forces to the war-weary nation.
There are clear risks and costs to Obama's strategy.
Violence is rising. The war in Afghanistan saw American military deaths rise by 35 percent in 2008 as Islamic extremists shifted their focus to a new front with the West. Obama's plan will also cost many more billions of dollars.
And the president's plan includes no time line for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Yet Obama bluntly warned that the al-Qaida terrorists who masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were actively planning further attacks on the United States from safe havens in Pakistan. And he said the Afghanistan government is in peril of falling to the Islamic militants of the Taliban once again.
"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," the president said.
"That is the goal that must be achieved," Obama added. "That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."
Obama's plan will put more U.S. troops and money on the line. He said Pakistan and Afghanistan will be held to account, using benchmarks for progress.
The president spoke just hours after a suicide bomber in Pakistan demolished a mosque packed with hundreds of worshipers attending Friday prayers near the Afghan border, killing at least 48 people and injuring scores more, in the bloodiest attack in Pakistan this year. Rising violence in Pakistan is fueling doubts about the pro-Western government's ability to counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants also blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.
Obama called the mountainous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan "the most dangerous place in the world."
"This is not simply an American problem - far from it," Obama said. "It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida's leadership in Pakistan."
The president added: "The safety of people around the world is at stake."
The strategy fits with Obama's operating premise - that the U.S. failed mightily in the years following the Sept. 11 terror attacks by focusing on Iraq instead of Afghanistan. He send he is sending in the 4,000 military trainers after military commanders watched their demand for such help go unmet for years.
His moves comes ahead of a U.N. conference on Afghanistan next Tuesday in The Hague, where Clinton will join representatives from more than 80 countries. And Obama himself is attending a NATO meeting next week in France and Germany.
At that meeting, the U.S. expects some NATO coalition members to commit more forces to the flagging war in Afghanistan, Obama officials said Thursday. They did not get specific.
Roughly 65,000 international forces are in Afghanistan, more than half from the U.S.
One part of Obama's plan is to expose fractures in the Taliban in hopes of weakening it.
Administration officials say the most difficult part of their approach will be in dealing with Pakistan, an often chaotic place with an erratic relationship with the United States. The administration will seek to bolster the democratic government of Pakistan, and try to get the people of that country to see the U.S.-led effort as one that is in their interests.
Obama also will call for increasing aid to Pakistan as long as its leaders confront militants in the border region. The president will work with Congress on language to attach conditions to military aid, sources said.
The U.S. will launch an intensive and expanded diplomatic effort to gain international cooperation, including reaching out to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia and even Iran.
The 4,000 military trainers that Obama is sending to Afghanistan will come from 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. All of the troops he is dispatching to Afghanistan, including the combat troops, will be there by fall.
Obama's plan does not send in more combat troops, for now. Military commanders say they think more such forces will be needed.