WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Declaring "our security is at stake," President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan Tuesday night, nearly tripling the force he inherited as commander in chief. He promised an impatient public he would begin bringing units home in 18 months.The buildup to about 100,000 troops will begin almost immediately -- the first Marines will be in place by Christmas -- and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone. In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president told the nation his new policy was designed to "bring this war to a successful conclusion," though he made no mention of defeating Taliban insurgents or capturing al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. "We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven," Obama said in spelling out U.S. military goals for a war that has dragged on for eight years. "We must reverse the Taliban's momentum. ... And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government." The president said the additional forces would be deployed at "the fastest pace possible so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers." Their destination: "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," the president said. It marked the second time in his young presidency that Obama has added to the American force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently made significant advances. When he became president last January, there were roughly 34,000 troops on the ground; there now are 71,000.
After the speech, cadets in the audience -- some of whom could end up in combat because of Obama's decision -- climbed over chairs to shake hands with their commander in chief and take his picture. Obama's announcement drew less-wholehearted support from congressional Democrats. Many of them favor a quick withdrawal, but others have already proposed higher taxes to pay for the fighting. Republicans reacted warily, as well. Officials said Sen. John McCain, who was Obama's Republican opponent in last year's presidential campaign, told Obama at an early evening meeting attended by numerous lawmakers that declaring a timetable for a withdrawal would merely send the Taliban underground until the Americans began to leave. As a candidate, Obama called Afghanistan a war worth fighting, as opposed to Iraq, a conflict he opposed and has since begun easing out of. A new survey by the Gallup organization, released Tuesday, showed only 35% of Americans now approve of Obama's handling of the war; 55% disapprove. He made no direct reference to public opinion Tuesday night, although he seemed to touch on it when he said, "The American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home." "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," he said flatly. In eight years of war, 849 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Uzbekistan, according to the Pentagon. In addition to beefing up the U.S. presence, Obama has asked NATO allies to commit between 5,000 and 10,000 additional troops. The war has even less support in Europe than in the United States, and the NATO allies and other countries currently have about 40,000 troops on the ground.
He said he was counting on Afghanistan eventually taking over its own security, and he warned, "The days of providing a blank check are over." He said the United States would support Afghan ministries that combat corruption and "deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable."