US President Barack Obama Friday put Pakistan at the center of the fight against Al-Qaeda in unveiling a new strategy to commit thousands more troops and billions of dollars to the Afghan war.
Obama vowed to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Osama bin Laden’s group, which he said was plotting deadly new assaults against the United States more than seven years after the September 11 attacks.
He said he would plunge 4,000 more US troops on top of an already announced 17,000 into the “increasingly perilous” unfinished war, triple US aid to Pakistan to 7.5 billion dollars over five years, attempt to peel away more moderate Taliban factions and lead a global civilian surge to Afghanistan.
The US moves were cheered by allies, and hailed by both Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan, ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague next week.
Britain is reportedly preparing a troop increase in Afghanistan and Russia said it was ready to step up cooperation with NATO in the country. EU foreign ministers also said they could increase civilian help.
“Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al-Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan,” Obama said in a sober televised speech.
“We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” he added in releasing the results of a 60-day review.
“That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you.”
Obama backed a Senate bill to triple US aid to Pakistan’s democratic government to 1.5 billion dollars a year over five years.
“Make no mistake, Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within,” he said, hours after a suicide bomb at a mosque in Pakistan killed more than 50 people and wounded 50 more.
But he warned Pakistan must play a more active role in eliminating the terrorists on its soil.
“Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders,” the US president said.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari welcomed Obama’s initiatives “to strengthen democracy,” Pakistani state media reported, adding the speech would further “cement” ties between the two countries.
Zardari is set to meet with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and Turkey’s Abdullah Gul in Ankara next week to focus on security issues, the Anatolia news agency said.
Afghanistan also welcomed the revised US strategy, as fresh violence again revealed the stakes are high.
The Afghan government “particularly appreciates the recognition that the Al-Qaeda threat mainly emanates from Pakistan,” Karzai’s chief spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, told AFP.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband condemned the mosque bombing and called it “a terrible reminder of the threat from violent extremism in Pakistan.
“The attacks highlight graphically what President Obama described today as the cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within. We will continue to work with Pakistan to counter the mortal threat from terrorism,” he said.
Britain’s chief of staff, General Richard Dannatt, told The Times that troops from Britain’s 12 Mechanized Brigade had been “earmarked” for Afghanistan.
He said there were no plans to send all of the brigade’s 4,000 troops to join the 8,000 British troops already there. The Times cited defense sources as saying 1,700 to 2,000 extra troops were seen as “the uppermost ceiling.”
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has 60,000 troops — including a significant contingent from the United States — in Afghanistan and another 10,000 US forces not under NATO command also operate there.
At a conference in Moscow on Afghanistan attended by both the United States and Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country was prepared to expand cooperation with NATO.
Moscow has already allowed the transit of non-lethal material through its territory. “We are ready to examine other kinds of constructive cooperation,” he said.
Obama said he wanted to shift the focus of the US engagement in Afghanistan to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country.
“That’s how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security and how we will, ultimately, be able to bring our own troops home,” he said.