WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday prepared to announce he will deploy about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of a new strategy that aims to lay the ground for an eventual withdrawal.
After three months of deliberations, Obama will outline his plans in an address to war-weary Americans on Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
His aim is turn the tide on what U.S. military commanders call a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan due to a resurgent Taliban. He may face a tough sell at home with many Americans skeptical of sending more troops and wanting more focus on the weak U.S. economy and 10.2 percent jobless rate.
Obama told U.S. military commanders on Sunday that he had settled on a plan and gave the orders to carry it out, the White House said. He also held a meeting to inform top advisers of his decision.
“The commander in chief delivered the orders,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama briefed allies on his plan on Monday and will talk to congressional leaders on Tuesday before delivering his speech.
The troop increase represents a major investment by Obama in the war shortly before he travels to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It will likely set off a battle in the U.S. Congress over funding since his own Democrats oppose a big troop surge. The added cost could reach $20-40 billion.
Gibbs would not detail Obama’s strategy, but other U.S. officials said Obama would announce that he has authorized sending about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
The shift in strategy will put a greater emphasis on securing Afghan population centers and a major increase in training of Afghan security forces to gradually assume control.
Obama’s emerging plan attempts to satisfy concerns on both sides of the U.S. political divide and represents a middle ground between conflicting options advocated by some of his senior advisers.
Sending more troops addresses demands from his generals and congressional Republicans, while stressing that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended is an attempt to placate skeptical Democrats and many Americans weary of the war and its cost.
Obama is not expected to set a specific pullout date. The strategy envisages a phased-in troop buildup over the next 12 to 18 months followed by a gradual U.S. drawdown and handover to Afghan forces over three to five years, officials said.
Pentagon officials hope NATO member-states eventually will supplement the U.S. surge with up to 10,000 of their own troops and trainers, pushing the overall number of extra troops close to 40,000, the number recommended by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
But Britain has said it expects countries to pledge a further 5,000 troops on top of those sent by Obama.
“You will hear the president discuss clearly that this is not open-ended. ... This is about what has to be done in order to assume that the Afghans can assume the responsibility of securing their country,” Gibbs said.
Obama will continue the existing counterinsurgency strategy with a greater focus on protecting major Afghan population centers along with agricultural areas and transportation routes, officials said.
This will be combined with a counterterrorism campaign, advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, using unmanned aerial drones and special operations forces to combat Taliban and al Qaeda fighters along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and possibly in Afghanistan’s more sparsely populated areas.
McChrystal has told lawmakers that a troop drawdown could begin by 2013, while the White House said it expected U.S. forces out of the country by 2017 or 2018.
Obama briefed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an Oval Office meeting and was telephoning other leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He spoke to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week.
Gibbs said Obama was talking in general about his plan to the allies, not getting into specifics.
“The president believes the situation in this region is a shared international challenge, so building on the work he’s been doing in this regard ... the president will be in close consultation with our friends and allies throughout the day,” Gibbs said.
Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Phil Stewart; Editing by David Storey