Obama Says Afghanistan Is 'Increasingly Perilous'

Obama declares U.S. must push harder against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

ByABC News
March 27, 2009, 10:45 AM

March 27, 2009 -- Calling the situation in Afghanistan "increasingly perilous," President Barack Obama today announced an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan and said the United States and its allies must embrace a singular mission in the region: to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" al Qaeda and destroy its safe haven in the region.

"That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you," Obama said.

The president announced that he's sending 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, outlined benchmarks to measure progress and detailed new diplomatic efforts and more civilian aid to further development efforts in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Read George Stephanopoulos' analysis of Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan here.

In outlining his administration's new strategy for the region, Obama said that for six years Afghanistan has been "denied the resources that it demands" because of the focus on the war in Iraq.

"To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. To enhance the military, governance and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have to marshal international support. And to defeat an enemy that heeds no borders or laws of war, we must recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan," Obama said.

Obama was flanked by his national security team for the announcement, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen, and Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president's National Security Adviser, Gen. James Jones (Ret.), also stood on stage, along with former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, who chaired the president's interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the audience were Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of Central Command; Army Lt. Gen. Eikenberry, ambassador to Afghanistan-designate; and members of the U.S. military and diplomatic corps and USAID who will soon be sent to the region.

Obama framed the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan as intrinsically linked and said the future there was not just a concern for the United States but an "international security challenge of the highest order."

"The safety of people around the world is at stake," Obama said.

Noting that 3,000 innocent Americans were killed on Sept. 11, the president said that since then, al Qaeda and its allies have killed thousands across the globe, including Muslims.

"Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al Qaeda has killed and maimed in far greater numbers than any other people. That is the future that al Qaeda is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, a future without opportunity or hope, a future without justice or peace."

Obama also went further than the United States has in the past to criticize the Afghan government for the rampant corruption that is said to have hampered progress.

"We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with," Holbrooke later told reporters.

Reaction from key senators was largely positive. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., called the plan "realistic and bold."

"Many of us have long advocated more troops for training Afghan security forces and a clear mission for our forces that are risking their lives, and this new policy is a down-payment in that direction," Kerry said.

The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, praised Obama's new strategy, saying it was basically a continuation of the Bush administration policy that Obama criticized during the presidential campaign.

"I think the surge in Afghanistan is a good idea," McConnell told reporters. "It was made possible by the success of the surge in Iraq."

McConnell predicted "broad support among Republicans" for the strategy and praised the president for his flexibility in a strategy that McConnell said would frustrate Obama's "own political left, but is in the best interests of the country.

"This is a fairly significant pivot here against his roots and the kind of left portion of his Democratic party," said McConnell, framing Obama's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan as essentially indistinguishable from what Sen. John McCain's would have been as president.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Dick Lugar, R-Ind., said the "severity of the threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan unites our sometimes fractious political debate.

"The emergent Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy properly directs the deployment of substantial additional civilian capacity," Lugar said. "Success in Afghanistan may depend on the attitudes of the people, the progress of reconstruction, and the development of the economy, as much as it depends on battlefield victories."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the plan for Afghanistan is "on the right track" but said he was skeptical that the Pakistanis will secure their border and disagreed with the administration that progress in Afghanistan was dependent upon success on the Pakistan side of the border.