x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Obama to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan

President Obama is due to announce today that he will deploy more US troops as part of a new strategy preparing for an eventual withdrawal.

President Barack Obama is preparing to announce he will deploy about 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan as part of a new strategy that aims to lay the ground for an eventual withdrawal. After three months of deliberations, Mr Obama will outline his plans in an address to war-weary Americans today at 8pm EST from the US Military Academy at West Point.

His aim is turn the tide on what US military commanders call a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan because of a resurgent Taliban. He may face a tough sell at home with many Americans sceptical about sending more troops and wanting more focus on the weak US economy and the 10.2 per cent jobless rate. Mr Obama told US military commanders on Sunday that he had settled on a plan and gave the orders to carry it out, the White House said. He also held a meeting to inform top advisers of his decision.

The troop increase represents a major investment by Mr Obama in the war shortly before he travels to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It is likely to set off a battle in the US Congress over funding, since his own Democrats oppose a big troop surge. The added cost could reach $20 billion (Dh73.47bn) to $40bn. US officials said Mr Obama would announce that he has authorised sending about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

The shift in strategy will put a greater emphasis on securing Afghan population centres and a big increase in the training of Afghan security forces to gradually assume control. Mr Obama is not expected to set a specific pull-out date. The strategy envisages a phased-in troop build-up over the next 12 to 18 months followed by a gradual US drawdown and handover to Afghan forces over three to five years, officials said.

Pentagon officials hope NATO member-states eventually will supplement the US surge with up to 10,000 of their own troops and trainers, pushing the overall number of extra troops close to 40,000, the number recommended by the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal. But Britain has said it expects countries to pledge a further 5,000 troops on top of those sent by Mr Obama. Mr Obama will continue the existing counterinsurgency strategy with a greater focus on protecting major Afghan population centres along with agricultural areas and transportation routes, officials said.

This will be combined with a counterterrorism campaign, advocated by the vice president Joe Biden, using unmanned aerial drones and special operations forces to combat Taliban and al Qa'eda fighters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and possibly in Afghanistan's more sparsely populated areas. Gen McChrystal has told politicians that a troop drawdown could begin by 2013, while the White House said it expected US forces to be out of the country by 2017 or 2018.

* Reuters