Obama Will Try to Sell Afghanistan Troop Increase by Including Withdrawal Timetable

UPDATE 12:16 PDT: In a background briefing for reporters moments ago, a senior Obama administration official said the three-year timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, as reported by CNN, is incorrect.

The three-year figure, in all honesty, is not in the speech,” the senior administration official said. “Let me give you a sense of…what the President will reiterate tonight, that the strategy that he outlined to accelerate — will accelerate handing over security responsibilities to the Afghan forces and thus allow the United States to begin to transfer our forces out of Afghanistan beginning in July of 2011.

“As my colleague mentioned previously, the slope thereafter is something that will be determined by the Commander-in-Chief, but the date that he will use tonight to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan would begin in July of 2011.”

Another senior administration official said the goal for withdrawing US forces “will probably be the most misunderstood and misreported point out of this whole saga, as is already the case, I think.

“This is the beginning of a process which is not yet defined in terms of the length of the process or the end point. And that’s because the pace of transition from our lead to the Afghan lead, and how long it will take, will be dominated by conditions on the ground, which, because they’re at least 18 months from now, are not possible to foresee with accuracy.”

Original report follows below.

President Barack Obama’s sales pitch for escalating the war in Afghanistan will also include a firm timetable for withdrawal, CNN reported this morning, citing unnamed administration officials.

Numerous news reports said Obama will call for as many a 30,000 additional US troops to be deployed to Afghanistan within six months. Obama will address the nation this evening from the US Military Academy at West Point to detail his plans.

CNN reported that Obama will call for most US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan within three years, a move clearly aimed at trying to win support for the surge from liberal Democrats and a skeptical public who believe the eight-year war is no longer worth fighting.

President George W. Bush resisted calls to set a firm timetable for withdrawal each time he sent additional troops to Iraq, stating that doing so would simply “embolden” the enemy.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Obama’s plan to accelerate the troop surge is aimed at rooting out insurgents and to prepare the Afghan military and police force.

“We want to — as quickly as possible — transition the security of the Afghan people over to those national security forces in Afghanistan,” Gibbs said during an appearance on “Good Morning America,” part of the Obama administration’s public relations effort to sell the war to the American people. “This can’t be nation-building. It can’t be an open-ended, forever commitment.”

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the new deployments, “along with 22,000 troops Obama authorized early this year, would bring the total U.S. force in Afghanistan to more than 100,000, more than half of which will have been sent to the war zone by Obama.”

The president also plans to ask NATO and other partners in an international coalition to contribute 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, officials said. The combined U.S. and NATO deployments would nearly reach the 40,000 requested last summer by U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the coalition commander in Afghanistan, as part of an intensified counterinsurgency strategy.

Officials and diplomatic sources said the 34,000 new troops would include 4,000 military trainers. They would be sent in stages beginning in January, with options to delay or cancel deployments, depending on the performance of the Afghan government and other factors. Defense officials said that, beyond Marine units deploying in coming weeks, no final decisions have been made about specific units or the order in which they would be sent.

Liberals, meanwhile, have become disillusioned with Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and largely opposes increasing the US presence in the region.

“I think he’s made up his mind that there needs to be a troop increase, and I have to say I’m very skeptical about that as a solution,” Rep. Janice Schakowsky, (D-Illinois), told CNN.

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, (D-Wisconsin), and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Rep. Jim McGovern, (D-Massachusetts), held a news conference Tuesday to discuss their opposition to a troop increase.

Although it’s clear that the Bush administration neglected the conflict by directing resources to Iraq, the escalation Obama will order now means that he owns the Afghanistan war.

The Pentagon reported that October was the deadliest month for soldiers in Afghanistan with 59 members of the military killed.