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Obama's Afghanistan speech: five key points

In President Obama's Afghanistan speech, he announced Tuesday night that he will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But he's already decided to start bringing them back by mid-2011.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 2, 2009

President Barack Obama speaks to cadets during a nationally televised address at the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, Tuesday.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

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Washington

President Obama's Afghanistan speech announced a new, historic chapter for the mission there, announcing the deployment of 30,000 additional troops in the "epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda" but also promising to begin withdrawing those forces within 18 months.

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The surge of forces will bring the total American commitment to nearly 100,000. It will be composed of several combat brigades, new trainers and support troops and will be deployed at "the fastest pace possible" to be on the ground and fighting by summer, an onerous task for a military deploying forces to a landlocked country with a crude infrastructure.

The much-anticipated formal announcement of a policy in Afghanistan punctuates three months of soul-searching within the administration and, regardless of the outcome, represents an historical turning point for Afghanistan and the Obama administration.

Five key takeaways:

1. An end in sight. The most important aspect of the new Afghanistan strategy is that Obama is pledging to begin to end the American commitment there by July 2011. While he said his exit plan is "conditions based," he is also pledging to begin pulling those forces out.

"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," according to Obama's prepared remarks before an audience of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan."

That provision of the plan has already sparked pointed criticism among some conservatives who fear that it telegraphs to insurgents that they can wait out American troops.

But administration officials don't see it that way. Instead, the July 2011 date creates a goalpost the military must try to meet in terms of arresting the deteriorating security situation and training Afghan forces.

2. More Afghan forces. Predictably, a large component of the American strategy is training the Afghan forces. Democrats, in particular, have pushed the administration to make training the indigenous force a centerpiece to the strategy so American forces can ultimately leave. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had asked to double the size of the army and police to a force of about 400,000 (the Afghan Army has about 92,000 troops currently and the police has 84,000). But the administration is not wanting to bite off more than it can chew. Instead, Obama wants to undertake the massive training effort in smaller increments, one year at a time, and re-evaluate as needed.

"So 400,000 doesn't have much weight with us," said one senior administration official Tuesday.

3. An accelerated pace. Under pressure to show success to a wary and war-weary American public, Obama has directed that the surge of forces will occur quickly, contrary to what Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon just last week.

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