President Barack Obama's long-awaited Tuesday speech on Afghanistan offers lots more troops to the military and some promising rhetoric for war skeptics. He will authorize between 30,000 and 36,000 new U.S. troops, depending on prospective NATO contributions, and an additional 10,000 more in a year if necessary, according to administration sources. Obama will stress that these and other moves to strengthen the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda should be seen as a boost to friendly Afghans and not as an open-ended American commitment. The boost will provide the time and the incentives for America's Afghan allies to prepare themselves to assume primary responsibility for continuing the battle.
I would have preferred no more than about 15,000 troops, mainly trainers, a two- to three-year plan (not a fixed timetable) for Kabul to take the combat lead, and much more toughness toward our two-faced Pakistani "allies." And the administration sources stress that the precise details and rhetoric of Obama's plan won't be set until the president gives his speech Tuesday night at West Point. But based on what they've told me, I believe that the Obama approach is reasonable, and about the most that can be expected, given the powerful conflicting pressures. The plan deserves the support of the American people.
The United States already deploys about 68,000 troops, and there are an additional 36,000 or so of various stripes from friendly countries. General Stanley McChrystal, NATO's commander in Afghanistan, asked for about 44,000 additional American troops on the ground.