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Obama to Unveil Afghan Strategy in Address

President Barack Obama meets with his national security team to discuss Afghanistan in the Situation Room of the White House, Nov. 23, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)
White House Photo/Pete Souza
Updated at 12:48 p.m. EST

President Barack Obama held a "rigorous final meeting" with his Afghanistan war council and will announce his revised strategy for the eight-year-old conflict during a prime-time address Dec. 1, CBS News confirms.

Mr. Obama will meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill following the national address in order to shore up congressional support amid opposition by some Democrats who are worried about the strain on the U.S. Treasury and whether Afghanistan has become a quagmire, unnamed officials told Politico.

Later Tuesday, the president said he intended to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, though he would not offer specific comments on his plan or its announcement. Mr. Obama said he would address the country after Thanksgiving. His remarks came during a press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Obama: I Will "Finish the Job" in Afghanistan

Military officials and others expect Mr. Obama to settle on a middle-ground option that would deploy an eventual 32,000 to 35,000 U.S. forces. That rough figure has stood as the most likely option since before Mr. Obama's last large war council meeting earlier this month, when he tasked military planners with rearranging the timing and makeup of some of the deployments.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Afghanistan

Earlier this month, CBS News reported the president would likely send close to 40,000 more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan. He has already increased troop levels in that country by 21,000 soldiers since taking office, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports.

The president has said with increasing frequency in recent days that a big piece of the rethinking of options that he ordered had to do with building an exit strategy into the announcement - in other words, revising the options presented to him to clarify when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government and under what conditions.

As White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put it to reporters on Monday, it's "not just how we get people there, but what's the strategy for getting them out."

Mr. Obama held the 9th meeting of his Afghanistan strategy review since mid-September on Monday night, with a large cast of foreign policy and military advisers, to go over that revised information from war planners. The two-hour Situation Room session was aimed at discussing "some of the questions that the president had, some additional answers to what he'd asked for," Gibbs said.

The meeting was arranged for the unusual nighttime slot to accommodate both Mr. Obama's packed public schedule on Monday and the fact that many of his top advisers were leaving town for the holiday. No more war council meetings are on the calendar.

The presidential spokesman had said ahead of the meeting that it was possible Mr. Obama could lock in a decision then, or that one could come "over the course of the next several days." In either case, it will not be announced this week, he said, and the meeting concluded with no announcement about a decision.

Military officials, congressional aides and European diplomats said they expect Obama to deliver a national address laying out the revamped strategy. Obama said in a television interview last week: "At the end of this process, I'm going to be able to present to the American people in very clear terms what exactly is at stake, what we intend to do, how we're going to succeed, how much it's going to cost, how long it's going to take."

Congressional hearings would immediately follow that address, including testimony from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Others likely to take part in hearings would be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. All four were among the approximately 20 top administration officials and Obama advisers participating in the talks Monday night - one of the biggest groups gathered for these sessions in some time.

Mr. Obama must not only sell his plan to the public, but to foreign allies whose additional resources the White House wants in Afghanistan and to lawmakers on Capitol Hill who would be asked the fund the effort.

Gibbs said that the subject of a war tax on the wealthy, proposed by a handful of leading Democrats, has not come up yet in the president's extensive war council meetings. But the idea, though unlikely to pass Congress, is one way for Democrats who are coming to dislike the war in greater numbers to challenge the president to confront the cost of any escalation.

Democratic allies of the president, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, have become more outspoken on the war in other forums as well.

The force infusion expected by the military would represent most but not all the troops requested by Mr. Obama's war commander, for a retailored war plan that blends elements of McChrystal's counterterror strategy with tactics more closely associated with the CIA's unacknowledged war to hunt down terrorists across the border in Pakistan.

McChrystal presented options ranging from about 10,000 to about 80,000 forces, and told Mr. Obama he preferred an addition of about 40,000 atop the record 68,000 in the country now, officials have said.

But a less-than-desired troop increase for McChrystal may be mitigated by U.S. allies in Europe increasing their own force levels in Afghanistan, Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute told CBS' "The Early Show."

"Of course, there was hope that they would contribute more. It hasn't happened yet, but that may compensate for any gap between what McChrystal has proposed and what Obama may want to provide," O'Hanlon said.

Another key, according to O'Hanlon, is to have "a strong host partner. You need a strong Afghan government, or at least a competent [one]. Even if it's just a mediocre one, one that at least starts to move forward."

The war has worsened on Mr. Obama's watch, and public support has dropped as U.S. combat deaths have climbed. A new CBS News poll shows 69 percent of Americans think the war in Afghanistan is going badly, and only 36 percent believe more U.S. troops would make things better.

The additional troops would be concentrated in the south and east of Afghanistan, the areas where the U.S. already has most of its forces, military officials said. The new troops that already went this year were directed to help relieve Marines stretched to the limit by far-flung postings in Helmand province and that would continue, while the U.S. effort would expand somewhat in Kandahar.

The increase would include at least three Army brigades and a single, larger Marine Corps contingent, officials said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision is not final.

U.S. war planners would be forgoing the option of increasing U.S. fighting power in the north, a once-quiet quadrant where insurgents have grown in strength and number in the past year. But McChrystal's recommendation never called for a quick infusion there.

In the absence of large additions of ground forces, dealing with the north would probably require relying more heavily on air power, two military officials said. Any such additional air strikes would be more successful if, as U.S. officials hope, Pakistan turns up the heat on Taliban militants on their side of the border.

As originally envisioned by McChrystal, the additional U.S. troops would begin flowing in late January or after, on a deployment calendar that would be slower and more complex than that used to build up the Iraq "surge" in 2007. McChrystal's schedule for full deployment has it taking nearly two years, military officials said.

The relatively slow rollout is largely driven by logistics. But it also could give the White House some leverage over Afghan President Hamid Karzai. U.S. officials note that where and how fast troops are deployed are a means to encourage fresh and more serious efforts at cooperation and clean government in Afghanistan.