President Barack Obama approved adding some 17,000 U.S. troops for the flagging war in Afghanistan, his first significant move to change the course of a conflict that his closest military advisers have warned the United States is not winning.
"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a statement.
That was an implicit slap at his predecessor, George W. Bush, whom Obama has accused of slighting urgent national security needs in Afghanistan in favor of war in Iraq.
The White House said the new commander in chief would send a Marine brigade and one additional Army brigade to Afghanistan this spring and summer. About 8,000 Marines are expected to go first, followed by about 9,000 Army troops. The United States has slightly more than 30,000 troops in the country now.
The new troops represent the first installment on a larger influx of U.S. forces widely expected this year. Obama's move would put several thousand troops in place in time for the increase in fighting that usually occurs with warmer weather and ahead of national elections in August.
The additional forces partly answer a standing request from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, who has sought as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to counter the resurgence of the Taliban militants and protect Afghan civilians.
"There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way," Obama said. "I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action."
The new units are a Marine Expeditionary Brigade unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, an Army Stryker brigade from Fort Lewis in Washington state.
Defense officials said they are still working out final numbers of Marines who will deploy with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. A Marine Expeditionary Brigade can vary in size and makeup.
Among the forces recently notified of deployment is a Marine unit of infantry and ground troops from Camp Pendleton in southern California, said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who represents the congressional district where the base is located. He said a full Marine brigade that also includes air assault forces, electronic warfare and reconnaissance will leave for Afghanistan on May 30.
The withdrawal of troops from Iraq allows Obama to increase the numbers in Afghanistan. Last fall, the Pentagon announced that the Fort Lewis brigade was being ordered to go to Iraq.
Ahead of his first foreign trip this week, Obama told a Canadian news organization that the United States will seek a more comprehensive, diplomatic approach to Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been engaged in war since 2001.
"I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means," the president said in a White House interview with Toronto-based Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Obama is scheduled to make a quick day trip to Ottawa on Thursday.
Obama agreed to a troop recommendation from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the lone holdover from the Bush administration. Pentagon officials had been expecting a similar announcement for weeks, but the new Obama team took about a month choosing how and when to add forces to a war that has been sliding backward.
The president made his decision Tuesday, a senior White House official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement, said Obama informed congressional leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone.
The planned troop deployment does not preclude sending more forces in the future, the official said. Any others, however, would come as part of a broader strategic review of the entire policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not as a stand-alone troop decision, the official said.
That review should be completed sometime around the end of March, which coincides with a NATO summit in Europe.
The strategy review for the Iraq war is expected to be completed in about two weeks or so, with announcements expected then on troop drawdowns, the White House official said.
U.S. commanders have said they want to beef up the expeditionary units and trainers in Afghanistan's southern region with enough new troops to stem the violence without becoming an occupying force that would alienate the population.
McKiernan has asked for more mobile forces and believes having a Stryker brigade will allow soldiers to move more easily along the rugged trails to the widely dispersed tribal enclaves.
Stryker brigades come outfitted with several hundred eight-wheeled, 19-ton Stryker vehicles, which offer greater protection than a Humvee and are more maneuverable than the heavily armored mine-resistant vehicles that are being used across Iraq.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)