Accessibility links

Breaking News

Obama Begins Briefing NATO Allies, Congress On New Afghan Strategy


U.S. President Barack Obama briefed key world leaders ahead of his West Point speech.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama will announce his new strategy for the Afghan war in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, on December 1. But before he's told the American people, Obama has begun briefing NATO allies and key members of Congress.

The White House says Obama has already ordered his new Afghan strategy implemented. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama notified Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by telephone on November 29, and later that day held an unannounced meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and national security adviser James Jones to lay out his final decision.

In his West Point speech, Obama is widely expected to announce that he is sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to bolster the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is battling the Taliban-led insurgency.

Gibbs said Obama's schedule today included calls to Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Obama is also set to talk to Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, President Hu Jintao of China, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.

Gibbs said the president won't be briefing key members of the U.S. Congress until the afternoon of December 1. He was asked by reporters why foreign leaders were briefed first.

"ISAF is an international entity made up, obviously, with a big, valuable contribution from the United States," Gibbs said. "But when the president talks with the French, the Germans, the Danes, and others, it is because they are valuable partners in this mission."

Gibbs said that by the time Obama speaks, members of Congress will have the same information the president gave foreign allies.

Pakistan's Important Role

Meanwhile, Brown confirmed that Britain will send an extra 500 troops to Afghanistan.

Brown told members of Parliament that the British troop reinforcements will be deployed in early December to southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. The increase will bring the total number of British troops in Afghanistan to more than 10,000.

There are now about 71,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. NATO and other allies collectively have an additional 36,000 troops in the country.

While the NATO military focus will be in Afghanistan, Gibbs said, Obama will pay particular attention to the role that he believes Pakistan must play in the conflict.

"A good portion of the president's speech tomorrow will discuss our relationship with Pakistan and touch on, going back to the very beginning of this administration, in a renewed engagement diplomatically with the Pakistanis, as I said this morning, to jointly address violent extremism," Gibbs said. "I think our relationship is stronger, and our efforts are stronger in dealing with that as a result of that engagement and diplomacy."

Pakistan's government has in the past been closely linked to the Taliban and has cool relations with Karzai's government in Afghanistan.

Gibbs said it's important for the Afghans, the American people, and NATO allies to understand that the United States doesn't plan to be in Afghanistan indefinitely.

"This is not an open-ended commitment. [Obama will say] that we are there to partner with the Afghans to train the Afghan national security forces -- the army and the police -- so that they can provide security for their country and wage a battle against an unpopular insurgency in that country," Gibbs said. "That's, I would say, first and foremost our primary mission."

The White House spokesman also referred to the problems that have plagued Karzai's presidency. He said Obama told the Afghan president in a telephone call from the Oval Office that it's time for Afghanistan to open "a new chapter" in dealing with corruption and exercising good governance.