Obama Sending 17,000 Troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON ~ In his first major military move, President Barack Obama approved this week the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, saying they were needed “to stabilize a deteriorating situation.”

“There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm’s way,” Obama said in a statement.

“I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action.”

Obama said the deployment orders were in response to a months-old request by the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, who had asked for 30,000 more troops.

“To meet urgent security needs,” Obama said he had approved a request by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade in the spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and support forces later this summer.

The White House said some 17,000 troops will deploy to Afghanistan ahead of the Afghan elections scheduled for August 20, significantly building up the 38,000 US force already on the ground battling a growing insurgency.

The US-backed government in Kabul has come under intense pressure as the insurgency led by Taliban Islamic militants and Al-Qaeda has gained strength and spread from the east and south into parts of the west and areas around the capital, Kabul.

As the unrest in Iraq has calmed down and the number of US troops there has been reduced, the US has increasingly shifted its focus to the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Last year was the deadliest year in the country in terms of Taliban violence, including suicide attacks, assassinations of government officials and ambushes on Afghan and international troops.

“The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and Al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border,” Obama warned.

“This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” the president said.

The Pentagon said Gates had ordered the deployment of two additional combat units totaling more than 12,000 troops, with Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman indicating they would be deployed in the violence-plagued south.

“The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, with approximately 8,000 Marines will deploy to Afghanistan in late spring 2009,” the Pentagon statement said.

“The 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division from Ft Lewis, Washington, will deploy approximately 4,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in mid-summer 2009.

“Approximately 5,000 additional troops to support these combat forces will receive deployment orders at a later date.”

Obama indicated that the units being sent to Afghanistan had initially been earmarked for Iraq, saying the drawdown of US forces there “allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan.”

The deployment decision comes amid a comprehensive review of US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Obama said it would not pre-determine the outcome of the review.

“Instead, it will further enable our team to put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan,” he said.

“As we develop our new strategic goals, we will do so in concert with our friends and allies as together we seek the resources necessary to succeed,” he said.

Obama ordered the review amid growing alarm about mounting Islamic extremism in the region seven years after the United States launched its “war on terror” and ousted Afghanistan’s extremist Islamic Taliban regime.

It was unclear how the additional troops will be used, with many warnings that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s growing problems.

Senator John McCain, Obama’s rival for the presidency in last year’s election, welcomed the move but expressed hope that it was “just the first step in a new comprehensive approach to Afghanistan.”

“A major change in course is long overdue,” he said.

US intelligence has warned that endemic corruption in Afghanistan and the government’s inability to deliver services and protect the populace has eroded its legitimacy.

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