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Examining Obama'S Plans For Afghanistan

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And Im Melissa Block.

The Obama administration has spent months deliberating the next steps to take in the war in Afghanistan. President Obama has now decided on those steps. Tonight, he will announce what they are in a national address from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. And Michele, you were at the White House today for a preview of that speech from senior administration officials. We've been reporting on the program that the president will talk not just about numbers, but also about strategy. What did you hear?

NORRIS: And, Melissa, we got a chance to hear about some of that strategy today. We know that the president will be talking about 30,000 more troops to be deployed immediately, a drawdown of U.S. forces beginning sometime around July of 2011 that the U.S. plans to work more aggressively to partner with Afghan and to help Afghan shore up its security forces. Were going to hear the president talk a bit again as he did throughout the campaign about disrupting, dismantling, defeating al-Qaida.

But they seemed to really like, Melissa, these alliterative catch phrases because he's also likely to talk about this three part goal of targeting, training and the transfer of power, thats targeting al-Qaida, training the Afghan security forces and then transferring the primary responsibility for security to the Afghan government by July of 2011 or 18 months.

BLOCK: Now, the training part of that equation, what is the strategy, as far as you can tell, for training Afghan forces to do what they havent been able to do up till now to take on al-Qaida on their own.

NORRIS: Well, they plan to really draw upon the experience of Stanley McChrystal, General McChrystal and General Petraeus who, as you know, spent quite a bit of time training forces in Iraq and they planned to learn the lessons from there. And they need to get the Afghan army up to speed. There's about a 92,000 member of Afghan national army that is capable at this point, but they're going to need much bigger numbers, probably four times that number and they're going to move away from a garrison army to a force that can fight a war and a war that clearly has several fronts.

They say that they're going to have a much harder time dealing or trying to shore up Afghan police forces. There's about a three-quarter one-quarter split they hope to eventually get to. And they've had real problems with the Afghan police forces because the corruption and retention and other issues. And the White house knows that if they want to have a much more muscular security force outside at the major population center, they're really going to have to do that.

BLOCK: Also, Michele, there have been huge questions about the reliability of their partner and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. How much confidence does the White House have in his future going forward and his leadership?

NORRIS: We heard about a series of very stern conversations that President Obama has had with Hamid Karzai after the election. And then again just today, one of the big questions is what is plan B? You know, if they're not able to -if in July of 2011 we start this drawdown and Hamid Karzai has not done a good enough job in eradicating corruption and building a stronger security force. What happens at that point? And that's something that we didnt hear much of today in that White House briefing. And we wonder how much we're actually going to hear from the president on that score.

And the one question is: What if al-Qaida just watches and waits? Just draws down its own forces and waits for the U.S. to start this withdrawal. And what the White House says is that still achieves their short-term goal because what they're trying to do is blunt al-Qaidas strength right now in Afghanistan and also in neighboring Pakistan. And they're hoping that if the security forces are ramped up, if they're much stronger, 18 months from now, theyll be able to take on the al-Qaida forces if they did come out from the mountains or out from the provinces in Northern Pakistan.

BLOCK: You mentioned Pakistan there and that is another key question here of the role that Pakistan will play, what their impact will be on defeating al-Qaida. How does that factor into the strategy that the president will be talking about tonight?

NORRIS: You know, this has been billed as a rollout of Afghanistan strategy. In many ways, this is an Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. You hear them talk about the Af-Pak strategy. The president has been involved in some very muscular diplomacy with Ali Zardari and trying to get him to really step up in dealing with al-Qaida in that country. And Pakistan, they have seemed to have taken this view that there is the threat that al-Qaida poses in the neighboring country and there's a threat that al-Qaida poses in its own country. And they sort of take on their own interests.

And the White House is trying to make sure that they take a much more broader view, and they note that if they're truly going to defeat al-Qaida, that will happen in Pakistan because thats where the leadership is, thats where the money is and thats where the recruiting is happening.

BLOCK: Okay, Michele, thanks. And well have coverage on most NPR stations -many NPR stations tonight of the presidents address starting at 8 p.m. Eastern. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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