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Obama: Afghan Troop Rise Was Hardest Decision

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said on December 13 his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan was the toughest of his presidency and said it would be clear within a year whether the strategy was working.

Obama, in an interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes," disagreed with some analysts who found his tone professorial and lacking emotion in the speech outlining the troop rise.

"That was actually probably the most emotional speech that I've made, in terms of how I felt about it," Obama said of the December 1 speech at the West Point military academy.

"Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were going to be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back."

"There is not a speech that I've made that -- hit me in the gut as much as that speech," he added.

Asked if the troop rise was the most difficult decision of his presidency, Obama replied: "Absolutely."

The troop increase is unpopular with many of Obama's allies in the Democratic Party.

The increase fulfills a large portion of a request made by General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, for 40,000 additional troops. Its aim is to secure major population areas and seize the momentum from the Taliban, which has gaining strength in the last few years.

Obama highlighted July 2011 as the time when the United States could begin to withdraw some troops, but he and his advisers have emphasized that date marked a "transition" period and the drawdown would likely be gradual.

But in the "60 Minutes" interview, Obama said it would be possible to assess the effectiveness of the Afghanistan strategy within a year and he could shift gears if the plan did not seem to be working.

"We will know, I think, by the end of December 2010 whether or not the approach that General McChrystal has discussed in terms of securing population centers is meeting its objectives.

"If the approach that's been recommended doesn't work, then yes, we're going to be changing approaches," he said.

He said the July 2011 date for the start of a drawdown served the purpose of signaling to people in Afghanistan that the U.S. commitment was not open-ended.

"There are, I think, elements in Afghanistan who would be perfectly satisfied to make Afghanistan a permanent protectorate of the United States -- in which they carry no burden," Obama said.

But he said that was not what the American people signed up for when the United States invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks.