WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Monday was prepared to announce he will deploy about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of a new strategy that will stress a U.S. intention to ultimately exit the country.
After three months of deliberations, Obama is to outline his plans in an address to the American people on Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST/0100 Wednesday GMT from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Obama told U.S. military commanders on Sunday that he had settled on a new plan and issued them the orders to carry it out, the White House said. He also held a meeting to inform top advisers of his decision.
The commander in chief delivered the orders, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama spent a great deal of time on Monday briefing allies on his plan and was to talk to congressional leaders on Tuesday before delivering his speech.
The troop increase represents a major investment by Obama in the war shortly before he travels to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and will likely set off a battle in the U.S. Congress over funding since his own Democrats oppose a big troop surge.
Gibbs would not detail Obama's strategy, but other U.S. officials said Obama is set to announce that he has authorized sending about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
The aim is to secure Afghan population centres, beat back a resurgent Taliban and train Afghan security forces to gradually assume control.
Obama is not expected to announce a specific pullout date but envisions a gradual U.S. drawdown and handover to Afghan forces over three to five years.
Washington hopes the build-up, expected to be phased in over the next 12 to 18 months, will create conditions that will eventually allow the U.S. troop presence to be scaled back.
Pentagon officials hope NATO member-states eventually will supplement the build-up with up to 10,000 of their own troops and trainers, pushing the overall number of extra troops close to 40,000.
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You will hear the president discuss clearly that this is not open-ended. ... This is about what has to be done in order to assume that the Afghans can assume the responsibility of securing their country, Gibbs said.
A U.S. official, who declined to be identified, said he expected Obama to offer a time frame for reducing forces after the build-up is completed in Afghanistan.
General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has told lawmakers that a troop drawdown could begin by 2013, while the White House said it expected U.S. forces out of the country by 2017 or 2018.
Obama's emerging plan attempts to satisfy concerns on both sides of the U.S. political divide.
Sending more troops addresses demands from his generals and congressional Republicans while stressing that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended is an attempt to placate sceptical Democrats and many Americans weary of the war and its cost.
Obama briefed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an Oval Office meeting and was on the phone with other leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He spoke to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last week.
Gibbs said Obama was talking in general about his plan to the allies, not getting into specifics.
The president believes the situation in this region is a shared international challenge, so building on the work he's been doing in this regard ... the president will be in close consultation with our friends and allies throughout the day, Gibbs said.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart and Adam Entous; Editing by Doina Chiacu)