U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday night that he is increasing the U.S. contingent in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops and asking NATO to increase its own troop presence by 5,000 to 10,000. He also stated that the U.S. would seek to speed up the transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghan government and pledged that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011. He did not provide a specific completion date for the withdrawal process, however, saying it would depend on “conditions on the ground”. Thus, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan remains open-ended under the new policy. (Read the full speech here.)
The increase will boost the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan to nearly 100,000 personnel, three times the size of the U.S. force in the country when he took office. Counting the requested increase in NATO troops, the total foreign military presence in Afghanistan is likely to grow to 140,000-150,000 by early next year. Britain has already pledged 500 additional soldiers, Poland is also likely to send more, and other NATO pledges could come as early as Friday.
The build-up is intended to support a major escalation in the fighting in order to “break the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the [Afghan] government.”
Obama consulted with a number of world leaders prior to his speech. Prime Minister Harper was not among the leaders telephoned by Obama, however, supposedly because Washington recognizes that Canada will not be increasing its own military presence and remains committed to ending the Canadian military mission in Kandahar in July 2011. (Harper has not made any commitment as to the size and role of any subsequent Canadian military presence in Afghanistan, however.)