WASHINGTON — President Obama will tell the world today how he will deal with the war in Afghanistan — and how he hopes his decision will lead finally to a path home for U.S. forces.
The stakes of his decision — ordered into effect Sunday in the Oval Office — are enormous, and the challenges of making it work are daunting.
He'll speak at 7 p.m. CST Tuesday from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Perhaps his toughest task will be balancing his plan to send 30,000 to 35,000 more American troops with talk of new benchmarks for success and the strong signal that U.S. troops will turn over Afghanistan's security to Afghan forces and get out.
His expected talk on the end of the war is meant to spark Afghans to take charge of their own country — and to soothe anti-war Democrats here.
Yet it also could suggest to the enemies that all they have to do is wait out an impatient United States, and to Pakistan, Iran, India and others that the U.S. lacks the stomach for a protracted battle.
Beyond that, he has to explain how his new plan can root out the Taliban, deny al-Qaida and its allies a sanctuary, straighten out a corrupt Afghan government so that people have an alternative to the Taliban and get neighboring Pakistan to fight terrorists who have fled there.
He also has to do it all while making sure that the region isn't further inflamed by Iran's ramped-up nuclear plans, a resurgence of ethnic and religious violence in Iraq or a growing Islamist insurgency in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
"It's probably the most important decision in his career," said Karin Von Hippel, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a center-right research center in Washington. "There are so many moving parts that need to be aligned. ... I think we can do it, but it's a huge challenge."
Obama on Sunday summoned the members of his top military and security team to the White House to give them the final go-ahead on his plan. As McClatchy Newspapers first reported Nov. 7, it would bolster the current 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan with another 30,000 to 35,000, to be deployed starting early next year.
After meeting with top officials from the Pentagon and White House staff, Obama spoke with Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal later Sunday evening via teleconference from the White House Situation Room. It was McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, who requested additional troops to institute a new counterinsurgency strategy that would fight the Taliban while shoring up the Afghan government and Afghan forces.
As part of that, Obama will announce a planned expansion of the Afghan army to 240,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000 by October 2013.
Obama will acknowledge the added costs of escalating the war, telling the country there are "limits on our resources, both from a manpower perspective and a budgetary perspective," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.
Obama also wants more help from NATO allies. He'll ask for another 7,000 to 10,000 NATO troops, which would come atop the 36,230 already there from U.S. allies, according to the NATO-International Security Assistance Force Web site.
He spoke Monday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, both NATO members.
Brown said Monday that his country would send an additional 500 troops, raising the British total to 9,500, according to the NATO-ISAF Web site. "The extra troops will deploy in early December to thicken the U.K. troop presence in central Helmand," Brown told Parliament.
Sarkozy said France would keep its 3,095 troops in Afghanistan until the country was "pacified and sovereign." He didn't say whether France would send more troops.
Despite the buildup, Obama will strive to assure the country that this is not another Vietnam.
"You will hear the president discuss clearly that this is not open-ended," Gibbs said. "This is about what has to be done in order to ensure that the Afghans can assume the responsibility of securing their country."