Before a room full of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., President Obama announced Tuesday night he will send 30,000 additional troops to fight in Afghanistan and will ask NATO to add between 5,000 and 10,000 to that number.
The U.S. troop numbers are fewer than the 40,000 requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of U.S. operations in Afghanistan. But the surge-which is what White House officials are calling it-will mean the deployment of more than 100,000 U.S. troops in the country by 2010, the highest level since the war began eight years ago.
Obama said American troops would begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011, though he refused to set an actual departure date, contingent on developments in the country. The July 2011 date is intended to give the Afghan government a "sense of urgency." Obama spent an hour talking to Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday night.
What critics describe as months of indecision the White House has characterized as careful planning.
"As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service," Obama told his West Point audience. "Let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war."
Gen. McChrystal supported the president's decision in a statement: "The clarity, commitment, and resolve outlined in the president's address are critical steps toward bringing security to Afghanistan and eliminating terrorist safe havens that threaten regional and global security."
With the Taliban gaining strength in Pakistan, Obama mentioned that country alongside Afghanistan throughout his remarks. The president was firm and didactic in tone as he detailed his strategy and policy, drawing applause lines from the rows of cadets only close to the end of his speech.
"We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people," Obama reminded his listeners, adding that Congress and the international community nearly unanimously supported military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.
So far the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have cost the United States about $1 trillion. The cost for the military in Afghanistan this year, Obama said, would be around $30 billion.
The president addressed criticisms from the right-that he had spent too much time deciding-and the left-that the war was another Vietnam. He called that perspective "a false reading of history."
The fight is directly related to global security, he underlined, and to the safety of the U.S. homeland. The United States has never sought "world domination," he added.
"More than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades," he said.
He insisted that wars are different now than ever before-America will rely on intelligence and diplomacy alongside military strength.
"We must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age," he concluded.