Obama: Safety of world at stake in Afghanistan

President Obama — saying "the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan" — announced a new strategy Friday to confront the growing threat in Afghanistan and now Pakistan.

Obama said “situation is increasingly perilous” in the region and 2008 was the deadliest year of the war for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Executive Office Building, Obama called the problem in the volatile region an “international security challenge of the highest order.” “The United States of America did not choose to fight a war in Afghanistan. Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives,” said Obama, who has vowed to make Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror. “The safety of people around the world is at stake,” Obama said. “So let me be clear: al Qaeda and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks – are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” Watch Obama tell terrorists U.S. will defeat them » He called on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, authorizing “$1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years — resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy.” He is also urging Congress “to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, and Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, that creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence. And we will ask our friends and allies to do their part — including at the donors conference in Tokyo next month.” Obama said he is sending another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan along with hundreds of civilian specialists. The troops — which are in addition to the 17,000 the president announced earlier would be sent to Afghanistan — will be charged with training and building the Afghan Army and police force. “We will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country,” he said. “For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. Those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. Later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan Security Forces.” Watch Obama’s remarks on the situation in Afghanistan »

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Obama said the coalition “will accelerate” efforts to “build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 — and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.” Obama said Afghanistan’s government has been “undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people” and its economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. ”

“To advance security, opportunity, and justice — not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces — we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers. That is how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs. That is why I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. And that is why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations — an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in the Hague.” The United States is seeking to work with the United Nations to develop “greater progress for its mandate to coordinate international action and assistance, and to strengthen Afghan institutions.” He said the United States will develop a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that would include not only NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China.”