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Obama expects support for more Afghanistan troops

Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will announce his plan to bolster the war in Afghanistan in a speech Tuesday night, his spokesman said, a surge that U.S. military officials say could top 30,000 troops.

The president promised this week to "finish the job" begun eight years ago. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday the announcement would include an exit strategy. But the surge in troops would be Obama's second since taking office, and liberal Democrats already are lining up against it, in part because of the also-surging cost — up to $75 billion a year.

Gibbs said Obama's recent meetings with military advisers have often focused on how to train Afghanistan's police and army to secure and hold areas taken from the Taliban so that U.S. forces can leave.

"We are not going to be there another eight or nine years," he said.

Incompetence and corruption in the Afghan government have aided a rise in the Taliban's strength. The military strategy is expected to include specific dates that deployments could be slowed or stopped if necessary, a senior military official said. The official and others spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision was not final.

Obama will be speaking to a war-weary American public. Polls show support for the war has dropped significantly since Obama took office, with a majority now saying both that they oppose the war and that it is not worth fighting.

The president and his top military and national security advisers have held 10 meetings to discuss America's future steps in Afghanistan. The top general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has asked the president for about 40,000 troops, arguing that a robust but temporary surge is the best way to end the war.

Administration officials said Obama has not made a final decision about the number of troops he would approve. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the president's plans, said they expected the total to be between 32,000 and 35,000.

On Tuesday, Obama predicted the American people will support his strategy once they understand the stakes.

"I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive," he said, speaking at a White House news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

McChrystal has warned that the war effort could fail without a large troop infusion. Although he preferred a higher figure — about 40,000 — McChrystal is expected to testify before Congress next week that this lesser number still gives him enough.

The expected increase would include at least three Army brigades and a single, larger Marine Corps contingent, the officials said.

Among others likely to take part in congressional hearings are Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. All were among about 20 officials and advisers participating in the president's final deliberations Monday night — one of the biggest groups gathered for these sessions.

The administration plan will have a tough sell among some congressional Democrats, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat who has questioned the value of adding forces and pointed to the war's rising cost.

The Afghan war bill hit $43 billion annually this summer, with the addition of the 21,000 forces Obama has already added to the fight this year.

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AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven and Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.


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