Previewing The Speech

By John Liang / December 1, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Earlier this afternoon, the White House held an on-background, curtain-raiser briefing featuring "senior administration officials" regarding President Obama's plan for a 30,000-troop build-up in Afghanistan.

According to one official in the transcript released by the White House:

In his speech tonight at West Point the President will begin by reaffirming the core goal of the United States in the region, which comes -- draws from the March 2009 strategic review. And just to be clear, that goal is to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

In order to achieve that goal we have subordinate goals for first Pakistan and then Afghanistan, which I'll outline briefly before getting to your questions.

In Pakistan we need to sustain our focus on al Qaeda and we need to help the Pakistanis stabilize their state. That second part, stabilizing Pakistan, really has three dimensions: a political dimension, an economic dimension and a security dimension. The Pakistanis require help across all three of these aspects, in particular on the security front where they face internal extremists, the Pakistani Taliban, if you will, who actually threaten their state. But also on the political and economic front, the Pakistanis require our assistance, and our long-term aim with Pakistan is to establish and then sustain a strategic partnership, which helps them bring stability to their state; in turn, to the region.

Let's shift to Afghanistan. There, our goal is to prevent the return of the Taliban -- I'm sorry, of al Qaeda -- and to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government. The President tonight will announce a new approach as to how we will accomplish those goals in Afghanistan. The concept that he'll describe is to surge American forces to do several things: first, to reverse the Taliban's momentum, which has been building steadily over the last three or four years; to secure key population centers, especially in the south and the east; to train Afghan forces, and then as quickly as possible transfer responsibility to a capable Afghan partner.

Just to review the bidding, in terms of what that means for troops, today there are just at 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan; 33,000 of those were committed this year, in 2009. The President will announce tonight that those 68,000 will be joined by an additional 30,000 Americans by next summer, by the summer of 2010. He will also announce that this surge, if you will, will be for a defined period of time. For more details on the timelines and so forth, you should tune in to the speech tonight.

Now, what will these troops be doing? They'll have the following military mission. First of all, they aim to degrade the Taliban in order to provide time and space to develop Afghan capacity. Most directly, the Afghan capacity we're developing are the Afghan security forces, so the army and the police. They also want to degrade the Taliban for a second purpose, and that is so that as we begin to hand off responsibility to the Afghan army and police, those emerging security forces are able to handle the Taliban because it's at a diminished strength.

The other key task for the military, this additional 30,000 over the coming months, is to train and partner with the Afghan security forces to accelerate their development. The broad aim here is to open a new window of opportunity for Afghanistan and to create conditions to begin to transfer to Afghan responsibility by a date which the President will specify in his speech.