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Obama orders 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision as commander-in-chief, has ordered 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan to tackle an intensifying insurgency, the White House said yesterday.

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a statement.

As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to focus more attention on the war in Afghanistan, where violence has risen dramatically in the past two years as Taliban militants and other insurgents have gained strength.

"The decision was communicated to the Pentagon yesterday. The orders were signed today," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling with Obama in Denver.

US officials have said Washington and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan, more than seven years after toppling the Taliban for harboring al Qaeda leaders responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The extra 17,000 troops will increase the US military presence in Afghanistan by more than 40 percent.

The new forces will include a Marine expeditionary brigade of some 8,000 troops, who will deploy in late spring, and an Army brigade of 4,000 soldiers equipped with Stryker armored vehicles, who will arrive this summer, the Pentagon said.

A further 5,000 support troops will also deploy.

The extra forces will go to southern Afghanistan, where US and NATO troops have struggled to hold territory against an increasingly bold Taliban insurgency.

The forces are part of an anticipated build-up that could expand the US military presence in Afghanistan to 60,000 troops, from a current 38,000.

As well as American forces, there are also some 30,000 troops from NATO nations attempting to stabilize Afghanistan.


"There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way," Obama said. "I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action."

US officials say Taliban safe havens over the border in Pakistan are a major asset for insurgents.

The announcement comes while the White House is still conducting a broad review of US policy on Afghanistan.

The deployment provides two of three extra combat brigades requested by the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Army General David McKiernan.

The units had originally been scheduled to go to Iraq. Obama said "the fact that we are going to responsibly drawdown our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan."

A senior administration official said Obama would make a decision in weeks on cutting force levels in Iraq, where the United States has 146,000 troops.

Obama has pledged to pull out all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months, but commanders are pushing for a slower withdrawal, warning that security gains are fragile.

Both Democrats and Republicans welcomed Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican defeated by Obama in last November's presidential election, described the situation in Afghanistan as "dire." But he also called on Obama to spell out a clear strategy.

"There still exists no integrated civil-military plan for this war -- more than seven years after we began military operations," McCain said. "A major change in course is long overdue."


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