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Three questions Obama must answer in Afghanistan speech

President Obama has not talked about Afghanistan much since March. Starting with his speech laying out a new Afghanistan plan Tuesday, he'll have to start making up for lost time.

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After three months of deliberations, it appears that Obama now agrees. Media reports suggest that Obama will approve at least 30,000 more troops for Afghanistan and pressure allies to supply an additional 5,000 to 10,000.

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This falls within the range of what McChrystal first requested: some 40,000 more troops.

Now, Obama must take the answers to the questions raised during his strategy summits to the nation on Tuesday – and to Congress shortly after.

Among the issues raised during the meetings that Obama will have to address:

• With Al Qaeda leadership now in Pakistan, why is Afghanistan worth it? Obama is likely to respond to this with McChrystal’s own words: an Al Qaeda hemmed in to a thin sliver of Pakistan is preferable to one that is allowed much freer rein – a probable result of failure in Afghanistan.

Moreover, Afghanistan is a key battleground in the proxy war between India and Pakistan. If Afghanistan grew strong enough to fend off external interference, it could remove one source of tension between two nuclear rivals (and key US allies).

• Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai a reliable partner? The Obama administration still seems wary of Mr. Karzai but appears to be banking on him becoming more proactive against corruption in his government under new US pressure.

Karzai is in a difficult position. He made alliances with corrupt Afghan power brokers in part to survive politically. Essentially enthroned by the international community in 2001, he and his country were largely forgotten for eight years, forcing him to adapt.

With a more robust and engaged US presence behind him, he might be more inclined to heed American anticorruption demands. Reports suggest that new US troops will be phased in over 12 to 18 months, suggesting that Obama might be providing something of a carrot to Karzai: shape up or the next scheduled deployment might not happen.

• Can the US afford to send 30,000 more troops – each at an estimated cost of $1 million a year? “We’re going to have a serious talk about the budget,” said Senator Lugar.

Perhaps even more problematic, however, is the question of how much the US will have to support the Afghan Army and police. Obama’s plan will be based on the idea of handing off security to Afghan soldiers and police as quickly as possible.

But funding forces big enough to protect the country would bankrupt the Afghan government, meaning other countries will have to foot a significant portion of the bill – perhaps well into the future.

“We have not heard how much Afghan troops would cost to us,” Lugar said.

See also:

Obama's Afghanistan war speech partly a bid for more foreign troops

Obama's new Afghanistan plan may be much like old one

Afghanistan troop surge could be a slow rollout


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