Army troops patrol in October on the edge of Kandahar, where Taliban roots… (Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — President Obama plans to send 30,000 to 35,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Monday, the largest single U.S. deployment since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The additional troops, Obama's second major escalation of the conflict this year, will bring the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 100,000. But even as he dramatically escalates the war, Obama is expected to emphasize that there are limits to the length of U.S. military involvement in the region, White House officials said, though he is not prepared to set concrete deadlines for withdrawal.
Obama will announce his newest Afghan strategy in a televised speech tonight before cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It represents his second attempt to forge a joint strategy for dealing with Taliban fighters and other insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to the military buildup, aides say the president's speech will lay out plans for civilian efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and benchmarks for measuring progress.
Obama will also call on Afghanistan's government officials and security forces to make strides toward self-sufficiency.
"You will hear the president discuss clearly that this is not an open-ended commitment," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "This is about what has to be done so the Afghans can secure their country."
Gibbs would not say whether the White House has specific timelines for U.S. involvement, but Obama has vowed that he would not pass the conflict on to a successor.
The White House said Obama issued orders Sunday to the military to put the new plan into effect. The president had met with administration officials in the Oval Office and later spoke by video conference with Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador.
The contents of the instructions remained secret and the Pentagon said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates probably would issue deployment orders to affected units later this week.
Shortly after taking office in January, Obama deployed an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. force currently stands at about 68,000, a number commanders have said is insufficient to retard insurgent gains and stabilize the country.
The expected troop announcement is likely to surpass the 2007 Iraq troop buildup, which pumped 21,500 combat troops and thousands of support personnel into zones in and around Baghdad.
The president on Monday called other world leaders to tell them of his decision and to ask for assistance. Obama met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and spoke by telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He was also scheduled to speak with leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Germany, Poland and India.
Obama planned to meet today with U.S. congressional leaders before traveling to West Point for his address.
Several European diplomats said Monday that NATO countries might be willing to provide additional troops sought by U.S. officials, although the approvals may not come immediately.
Italy, Georgia and Ukraine are among countries that are considering sending more troops, in addition to Britain, which is adding 500.
One European official, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol, said that as many as eight countries could add troops in the coming months and that some countries may delay planned troop departures.
The official did not say whether Canada, which plans to withdraw its 2,800 troops by 2011, is among those.
Signs of cooperation exist even as the war has become deeply unpopular in many European countries. Diplomats said European governments were satisfied with what they understood of Obama's plan for a combined military and civilian effort. However, they acknowledged that questions about timetables and criteria for Afghan performance remained to be worked out.
Brown, in remarks to Parliament on Monday, confirmed that his government would send an additional 500 troops, bringing the British total to more than 10,000. He said Britain already has 500 special forces troops in Afghanistan, a detail that had not previously been disclosed.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported that the Obama administration had asked France for an additional 1,500 troops. French officials, who have more than 3,000 troops in the country, have resisted past requests, saying their military is overstretched.
A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke last week with her French counterpart, but did not say whether she asked for additional French troops. Clinton also spoke with other countries that are U.S. allies in Afghanistan.
Obama is expected to speak about ensuring progress in the training of Afghan military and police forces as well as improving local governance.