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Obama, Karzai Hold Videoconference, Talk Strategy

Tuesday, 01 December 2009 11:21 AM

KABUL -- In a lengthy videoconference call on Tuesday, President Barack Obama shared his new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai, spending an hour discussing troops levels, security, political and economic elements of his revised war plan.

Obama called Karzai ahead of his planned speech Tuesday night at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, a spokesman for Karzai's office said.

The Afghan president's office declined to disclose details about their conversation, but a close confidant of Karzai's, who was with the president following the call, said Karzai was happy with the discussion. The confidant spoke anonymously because it was a private discussion.

In Washington, a senior administration official told The Associated Press that Obama is sending about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to be deployed over six months. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details had not yet been announced, said Obama also would lay out a rough timeframe, including some dates, for when the main U.S. military mission will end.

The 30,000 new troops will bring the total in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 U.S. forces. The main mission of the new troops will be to reverse Taliban gains and secure population centers in the volatile south and east parts of the country.

More troops would be welcome news to U.S. troops at Forward Operating Base Airborne, located 22 miles (35 kilometers) west of Kabul in Wardak province.

"Sure we want more troops, more help. We're over-stretched. Many hands make lighter work," said Staff Sgt. Joel Mabry, of Cullman, Alabama, who is deployed with an engineering battalion from the Alabama National Guard.

He said with more infantry and other combat troops arriving, the work of the engineers would skyrocket. His unit has been moving around U.S. outposts and bases insulating tents, building hot showers and doing other jobs needed to prepare soldiers for the Afghan winter.

Interest in Obama's speech wasn't keen at the base where TV sets in the mess hall and the recreation center were tuned to football, basketball or movies all day, rather than news channels. But some soldiers are wondering whether their deployments will be extended. That's a rumor spreading around the 2nd Battalion, 287th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, which is due to rotate back to the United States within a month.

"I wouldn't want to speculate (on an extension). It's pure conjecture. If it happens, the morale is high among the troops. It wouldn't be a problem for me," said 1st Lt. Chris Stachura, of Pulaski, Wisconsin, a battalion officer.

The call was one of several Obama was making to world leaders, including Asif Ali Zardari, the president of neighboring Pakistan.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said he spoke with Obama over the phone Monday and Obama informed him about his Afghanistan decisions. Loekke Rasmussen would not go into details, but said the Obama plan should make it easier for international forces to pull out at some point.

"It will be offensive and it will send a strong signal that the international community's commitment to take care of Afghanistan in such a way that we forward the probability that we will not have a lifelong physical presence in Afghanistan," he said at his weekly news conference.

Obama's war escalation includes sending more American forces into Afghanistan in a graduated deployment over the next year. They will join the 71,000 U.S. troops already on the ground. Obama's new war strategy also includes renewed focus on training Afghan forces to take over the fight and allow the Americans to leave.

Obama also is expected to explain why he believes the U.S. must continue to fight more than eight years after the war was started following the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaida terrorists based in Afghanistan.

This has been the deadliest year of the conflict for U.S. forces, with nearly 300 killed. Casualties started climbing soon after Obama decided to deploy an additional 21,000 U.S. troops as part of his plan to refocus on the Afghan war.

NATO forces have also posted a higher death toll in 2009 than in any previous year, with more than 500 killed. In the latest casualty, a British service member was killed by a bomb Monday, the international military coalition said in a statement.

The top U.N. official in Afghanistan said Obama needs to be careful not to go too far in stressing the need for U.S. troops to find a way out, when some sort of long-term commitment will be essential.

"It would be wrong to talk about an exit strategy. I think we're talking a transition strategy, which is something completely different," Eide said. "It really means pushing more and more responsibility onto the Afghan authorities."

Obama will emphasize that Afghan security forces need more time, more schooling and more U.S. combat backup to be up to the job on their own, and he will make tougher demands on the governments of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

In the capital of Kabul, some Afghans said they were worried the troop increase was too much like an occupation _ a scenario particularly worrisome to Afghans who still remember living through an oppressive Soviet regime.

"It is possible to build a country with its own people, not with foreigners," said Nazir Ahmad, standing outside of a clothing store that he runs.

Bershna Nadery, a middle-aged woman who works for the Afghan Finance Ministry, said she was worried more troops would make life more dangerous for Afghans.

"When they increase the troops, the Taliban will respond by increasing their attacks on the foreigners. But that will not only be against the foreigners, it will be against Afghan civilians who live in the same area," said Nadery, a woman in a black headscarf, who was shopping on a main street.


Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Kabul and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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KABUL -- In a lengthy videoconference call on Tuesday, President Barack Obama shared his new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai, spending an hour discussing troops levels, security, political and economic elements of his revised war plan.Obama called...
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 11:21 AM
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