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Obama maps out Afghan, Pakistan war strategy

WASHINGTON — Widening a war in "the most dangerous place in the world," President Barack Obama launched a fresh effort Friday to defeat al-Qaida terrorists in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, defending his strategy with shades of the dire language of George W. Bush.

Stirring echoes of Sept. 11, Obama warned that al-Qaida is actively planning attacks on the United States from secret havens in Pakistan. He said he was setting new benchmarks and sending in 4,000 more troops, though he stipulated that they will not carry out combat missions. They will work as trainers and advisers to the Afghan army.

He also plans to send hundreds of civilians and increased aid for a six-year war that has no end in sight.

"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Beyond stepping up the ground fight against the Taliban, he said, he plans to target far more resources toward a narrower set of Afghan problems: government incompetence, opium cultivation and heroin trafficking, and a poorly equipped and trained army.

The president, who declared last weekend that an "exit strategy" was needed for Afghanistan, never used those words in announcing his plans on Friday. His strategy is built on an ambitious goal of boosting the Afghan army from 80,000 to 134,000 troops by 2011 — and greatly increasing training by U.S. troops — so the Afghan military can take control of the war.

That, he said, is "how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home." There is no timetable for withdrawal, and the White House said it had no estimate yet of how much the plan will cost.

The Afghan war effort has been longer and costlier than U.S. leaders expected. U.S.-led forces toppled the militant Taliban government after the terrorist attacks in 2001, but many militants fled and regrouped in neighboring Pakistan. Obama said Afghanistan will now get the resources it should have received years ago, "denied because of the war in Iraq."

Since becoming president, Obama has ordered 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, counting 17,000 combat forces who will try to quell surging violence. The Pentagon says that will put the U.S. total there at more than 60,000, the most to date.

"I remind everybody, the United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan," Obama said.

He tied Afghanistan and Pakistan together as one conflict. Afghan and Pakistani officials praised the strategy.

Bomb attack on mosque kills at least 50

A suicide bomber blew up a mosque near the Afghan border at Friday prayers, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100 in the worst attack in Pakistan this year. Islamic militants were suspected in the blast in the Khyber tribal area, near Peshawar, apparently to avenge military operations in the area aimed at protecting the major supply route for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, authorities said. The route passes in front of the mosque.

2 U.S. soldiers killed: An Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. troops Friday in northern Afghanistan, then killed himself. At least 599 members of the U.S. military have died as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the Defense Department says.

Obama maps out Afghan, Pakistan war strategy 03/27/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 12:00am]
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