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Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - Widening war in "the most dangerous place in the world," President Barack Obama launched a fresh effort Friday to defeat al-Qaida terrorists in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, defending his strategy with shades of the dire language of George W. Bush.

Stirring echoes of Sept. 11 and making the war his own, Obama warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the United States from secret havens in Pakistan. He said he was setting new benchmarks and sending in 4,000 more troops, hundreds of civilians and increased aid for a six-year war that has seemed to be easing in Iraq but still has no end in sight.

"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," Obama said.

The president, who declared last weekend that an "exit strategy" was needed for Afghanistan, never used those words in announcing his plans Friday. His strategy is built on an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 - and greatly increasing training by U.S. troops accompanying them - so the Afghan military can defeat Taliban insurgents and take control of the war.

That, he said, is "how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home."

There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House said it had no estimate yet on how many billions of dollars its plan will cost.

Much like Iraq, the war effort in Afghanistan has been longer and costlier than American leaders expected.

U.S.-led forces toppled the militant Taliban government there after the terrorist attacks on America in 2001, but many militants fled and regrouped in neighboring Pakistan.

Obama said Afghanistan will now get the resources it should have received years ago, "denied because of the war in Iraq."

Since becoming president, Obama has ordered 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, counting 17,000 combat forces who will try to quell surging violence. The Pentagon says that will put the U.S. total there at more than 60,000, the most to date. As the Iraq conflict winds down, the Afghanistan war is growing.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai embraced the additional help his country will get to train its army and police force.

Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani said it was "an extraordinarily positive sign that the Obama administration is thoroughly re-examining its policy toward our region."

The man Obama defeated for the presidency, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said he welcomed Obama's revamped strategy as long overdue.

"The war there is one that we can and must win, but for years now we have been fighting without a clear strategy and with insufficient resources," McCain said.


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