President Barack Obama plans to commit to sending 4,200 more troops and hundreds more civilians to Afghanistan in a speech at the White House on Friday morning, and also to embrace a new system of benchmarks to measure progress.
“He’s gone all in,” said an official briefed on the plan. “This is Obama’s war. He’s pushed all the chips to the center of the table.”
The 4,200 troops will be trainers to help expand the Afghan army. “We’ll see if we ultimately need to go beyond that,” the official said.
The plan is at the heavier end of the spectrum of possibilities the White House considered, according to several top officials briefed on the plan.
A minimalist approach would have focused on counterterrorism and providing security past national elections later this year. An even more robust approach would have included a broader counterinsurgency campaign and an even longer and more idealistic commitment to the central government.
The training troops are in addition to the 17,000 troops he ordered in February, in what he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week was the most difficult decision of his young presidency.
“The strategy essentially is, let’s get back to the basics of why we’re in Afghanistan, which is to go after the guys who attacked us, go after Al Qaeda, and disrupt, dismantle and ultimately destroy them,” an official said. “To do that, it’s going to require more forces.”
According to a senior administration official, the plan offers the clear and attainable goal of stopping Al Qaeda operations in the country, which will necessitate high level dealings with political leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"The strategy starts with a clear, concise, attainable goal: disrupt, dismantle, and eventually destroy al Qaeda, its support structures, and safe havens," the official said. "To achieve this goal, for the first time the President will treat Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries but one challenge, and will engage both intensively at the highest levels."
The official provided other details: "For the first time the mission will be adequately resourced. For more than seven years, commanders on the ground have not been given the resources they need to fight. President Obama has already ordered more than 17,000 more troops to the country. The President will send 4,000 additional trainers to build up the Afghan army and focus on training ANA and ANP forces as the transition to less reliance on U.S. and coalition forces. The President believes we need more resources for the civilian aspects of the mission, working with all of our partners in NATO, the UN, and the Afghans.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both in Europe next week, plan to ask allies to help.
Here are the elements Obama plans to announce:
Military: The additional troops will help “provide capability for the Afghan government and military until they’re able to do it themselves,” an official said.
Benchmarks: The president will embrace the notion of measuring progress. “We’re not going to pursue a policy indefinitely if it’s not working,” an official said. “We need to be able to judge it.”
Accountability: With all this new money going into the war, the administration will fund more inspector-general-type accountability programs to ensure the money is efficiently and effectively spent.
Civilian side: A significant increase in civilian capacity — “civic engagement” — is planned. Afghanistan may need more experts on rule of law to enhance the judicial system. The country needs more police trainers, agriculture experts, veterinarians and experts on water systems. “You have to have a bigger and better and less corrupt police force,” an official said. “Wewill apply more help and resources to the bottom-up government effort — provincial and district governments. We want more of a connection between governance and the people, so they can see the results of the governance and an alternative to the Taliban.”
Pakistan: The U.S. will continue to work with Pakistan and help them realize that the terrorist threat to the U.S. is as much a threat to them. “We’ve got to help them develop the capacity to deal with it, which is difficult because they have issues with us being there and on the ground,” an official said. “That’s how you really develop their capacity.”
Financial: The president will endorse an amendment by Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that calls for additional foreign aid money for Pakistan, with strings attached with the goal of reducing terrorism.
“Hearts and minds”: The administration recognizes the need to win the support of the people of Afghanistan.