Photo by Charles Dharapak
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Declaring ''our security is at stake,'' President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan on Tuesday night, but balanced the buildup with a pledge to an impatient nation to begin withdrawing American forces in 18 months.
In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president said his new policy was designed to ''bring this war to a successful conclusion.'' The troop buildup will begin almost immediately -- the first Marines will be in place by Christmas -- and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone.
''We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven,'' Obama said in articulating U.S. military goals for a war that has dragged on for eight years. ''We must reverse the Taliban's momentum. ... And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government.''
The president said the additional forces would be deployed at ''the fastest pace possible so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers.''
Their destination: ''the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida.''
''It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak,'' the president said.
It marked the second time in his young presidency that Obama has added to the American force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently made significant advances. When he became president last January, there were roughly 34,000 troops on the ground; there now are 71,000.
Obama's announcement drew less-than-wholehearted support from congressional Democrats. Many of them favor a quick withdrawal, but others have already proposed higher taxes to pay for the fighting.
Republicans reacted warily, as well. Officials said Sen. John McCain, who was Obama's Republican opponent in last year's presidential campaign, told Obama at an early evening meeting attended by numerous lawmakers that declaring a timetable for a withdrawal would merely send the Taliban underground until the Americans began to leave.
As a candidate, Obama called Afghanistan a war worth fighting, as opposed to Iraq, a conflict he opposed and has since begun easing out of.