President Barack Obama announced Tuesday night he will send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan almost immediately, and then begin to withdraw them by July 2011.
“I do not make this decision lightly,” Obama told an auditorium full of cadets at West Point. “I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is 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.”
During the speech, Sayed Shah, 64, an ardent opponent of the surge, listened on the radio at his Afghan restaurant, Bamiyan, in Manhattan.
“Before you send troops, you have to clean up the [Afghan] government,” said Shah, who was a supreme court judge in his country. “The more people you send, the more people you kill.”
Mitch Yuspeh, 62, a frequent customer who lives in Manhattan, said the increase is “worth a shot.”
“It can’t get any worse,” he said.
The troop build-up announced last night, aimed at battling the insurgency and securing population centers, will bring the number of U.S. forces to nearly 100,000. Obama is also asking NATO members in Europe to add 5,000 to 10,000 troops to a separate international force, which now numbers 40,000.
“Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces,” Obama said.
The first Marines will deploy by Christmas, while the rest will be sent over “in the first part of 2010,” Obama said.
Obama also spoke directly to Afghans.
“America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country,” he said. “We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens.”
The announcement came as support at home for the eight-year-old war is slipping.
A Gallup poll released yesterday showed 35 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the war, while 55 percent disapprove.
“We are passing through a time of great trial,” Obama said. “And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering.”
Even before the president spoke, his plan was met with skepticism in Congress, where Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and liberal House Democrats threatened to try to block funding for the troop increase, which is expected to cost $30 billion the first year.
Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs a military oversight panel, said Democrats will look for ways to pay for the additional troops, including a tax increase on the wealthy or a gasoline tax.
Officials said Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in last year's election, told the president that declaring a timetable for withdrawal would merely send the Taliban underground.
The AP contributed to this story.