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Obama to unveil his Afghan strategy Tuesday at West Point

The president is expected to announce that the U.S. will send more troops to Afghanistan. He also is likely to offer a plan for eventually withdrawing U.S. forces.

November 25, 2009|By Peter Nicholas

Reporting from Washington — President Obama will roll out his new strategy for the Afghanistan war during a televised speech Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern time from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the White House said.

Obama, who has presided over at least nine meetings of his senior advisers devoted to the war, is expected to announce higher troop levels for Afghanistan while also detailing a plan for ultimately withdrawing U.S. forces and handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan government.

In announcing Obama's address to the nation, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama has no appetite for an indefinite military presence in Afghanistan.

"We're in the ninth year of our efforts in Afghanistan," Gibbs told reporters in his White House office. "The president will want to walk through his decision-making process and give people a sense of the importance of our efforts, but reiterate for them that the president does not see this as an open-ended engagement."

He added: "Our time there will be limited, and I think that's important for people to understand."

Before traveling to West Point on Tuesday, Obama will privately brief members of Congress about his decision. The White House has asked the television networks for airtime.

For a president facing a raft of domestic and foreign policy challenges, Afghanistan is among the thorniest. Polls show the war to be unpopular, with Americans eager for an exit strategy. Liberal Democrats who comprise Obama's political base are loath to see him commit more troops.

Yet Obama's ground commander has said at least 40,000 more military personnel are needed for the mission to succeed. Presently, about 68,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan. Obama himself has described Afghanistan as a crucial battleground in the effort to defeat Al Qaeda terrorists.

Obama has undertaken a weeks-long review process of strategy in Afghanistan, while Republican opponents have accused him of "dithering."

With lives at stake, Obama has said he did not want to rush the decision.

Gibbs said that "throughout this process, the president has repeatedly pushed and prodded not simply for, as I've said, how are we going to get a certain number of troops in, but what is the strategy? What has to be implemented ultimately to get them out?"

Whatever the number of new troops sent to the region, Obama has indicated he is determined to complete the mission in Afghanistan. At a news conference on Tuesday he said, "I've also indicated that, after eight years, some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job."

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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