White House officials just briefed reporters on President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan. Here is the top-line takeaway:
1. He plans to increase troop strength in Afghanistan by 30,000 Americans, making the total U.S. troop count 98,000. These forces will be in place by the summer of 2010. A senior administration calls the addition of new troops a “surge.” (When Obama came into office, there were 35,000 troops in Afghanistan.)
2. In July of 2011, Obama will “begin transferring” troops out of Afghanistan, but the pace and end date of that withdrawal will depend on conditions on the ground. In other words, while Obama will say that the U.S. military commitment to Afghanistan is not open ended, he will not set an end date for the U.S. military commitment.
3. The goals of the U.S. Afghan campaign remain unchanged: Prevent a Taliban overthrow of Afghan government, and prevent safe haven for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
4. The top development goal in Afghanistan will be agriculture. There will also be a major focus on training Afghan troops to take over for the U.S. forces after 2011. But there are no fixed numbers for the end size of the Afghan police and military force.
5. This is an aggressive military approach, according to Obama aides. One senior administration official claimed that the force option Obama chose sends more forces to Afghanistan quicker than any other option presented to him. That said, Obama was presented with other options that called for more total troops to be committed to Afghanistan.