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Obama Announces Troop Increase Plus Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (CN) - The United States will send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, President Obama said Tuesday night in announcing his long awaited decision, but he simultaneously announced an exit strategy, saying troops will begin leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011. "If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan," he said, "I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow."

The surge, beginning in two to three weeks, will reinforce the 71,000 American troops already in Afghanistan, but falls short of the 40,000 General Stanley McChrystal, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, had requested.

"I do not make this decision lightly. I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force," Obama said, addressing cadets at West Point Military Academy, in New York.

He also cautioned that the withdrawal planned to begin in 18 months is open to changes depending on the situation in Afghanistan. Cabinet members later clarified that the date itself is not conditional, but that the rate and method will depend on the situation.

"The absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government," he said in defending his controversial decision. "It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."

The new approach - which Obama said will cost $30 billion over the course of next year - is controversial, with liberals hesitant to throw more money and soldiers at the war, and conservatives riled over what some see as a shortfall and delay of the troop increase.

Obama addressed some broad concerns about his decision. To those who draw parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam, who say the United States should cut its losses and leave, Obama said that Americans were attacked from Afghanistan, hinting at a greater importance than Vietnam. He also said that the United States is in the war with 43 other nations, highlighting the war's broader support than that of Vietnam.

To others who suggest that the United States should not increase troop levels, Obama said, "this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there." He maintained that more troops will allow for better training of Afghan forces, an important step in an American withdraw.

And he challenged calls for greater American involvement. "As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests," he said.

Obama reminded the watching world, "This is not just America's war." He said he has asked for contributions from allies as well. Comparing the al Qaeda to a growing cancer, he said, "What's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility. What's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world."

He gave special attention to nuclear armed Pakistan, whose stability has been threatened as militants flee Afghanistan and move into the border region between the two countries.

Then, looking directly into the camera, he addressed Afghanis and the Muslim world. "Unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination," Obama said. "Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours."

State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where they are expected to defend the new Afghanistan strategy.

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