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« NY-20: Murphy +4 | Blog Home Page | Hill Leaders React To Obama's Anti-Extremism Plan »

Obama Announces New Way Forward In "Campaign Against Extremism"

American personnel will seek to stabilize governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan while targeting the extremists who pose a continuing threat to global security, President Obama announced this morning.

The commander in chief spoke of what he called a "stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy" for the two nations, the result of a review he called for upon taking office. He said that U.S. policy will be dictated by "a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future."

"That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just," Obama said. Then, looking straight into the television cameras instead of at his teleprompter, he said: "To the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: we will defeat you."

Though today's announcement had been advertised as an Afghanistan policy, the role of Pakistan in fighting terrorism was paramount, and in fact, Obama spent the first half of his speech focusing on that nation. He said al Qaida and its "extremist allies" have left Afghanistan for Pakistan, a group that "almost certainly includes" Osama bin Laden, and is responsible for 9/11 and the death of thousands of Pakistanis since then.

"They have blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. So make no mistake: al Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within," he said.

He signaled a stronger role for America there, saying "we will not and cannot provide a blank check," and that the government "must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaida." And alluding to a high profile promise from early in his campaign, he said that the U.S. "will insist that action bet taken - one way or another - when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets."

Moving away from the "war on terror" branding used by the previous administration, Obama spoke of a "campaign against extremism" that won't be fought "with bullets or bombs alone." He urged support for two pieces of legislation that would direct aid to the Pakistani people and encourage economic development.


In Afghanistan, he said the U.S. must work to prevent al Qaida from establishing safe-haven again, fight a resurgent Taliban, and "promote a more capable and accountable" government. Having already announced sending 17,000 troops for combat operations, he said he would not shift focus to training Afghan security forces, with the goal of establishing an army of 134,000 and police force of 82,000 by 2011.

In addition to military forces, he announced a "dramatic increase" in civilian efforts to "advance security, opportunity and justice" throughout the country.

"At a time of economic crisis, it is tempting to believe that we can short-change this civilian effort. But make no mistake: our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future," he said, plugging his budget plan that increases foreign assistance programs.

Obama stressed that the new policy would take time, and that he has "no illusions that this will be easy."

"The world cannot afford the price that will come due if Afghanistan slides back into chaos or al Qaida operates unchecked," he added. "We have a shared responsibility to act - not because we seek to project power for its own sake, but because our own peace and security depends upon it."

Some have described the shift in policy as signaling that this is now "Obama's" war. But the president described this as an essential part of a war that America did not choose.

"Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives," he said. "Al Qaida and its allies have since killed thousands of people in many countries. Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al Qaida has killed and maimed in far greater numbers than any other people. That is the future that al Qaida is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan - a future without opportunity or hope; a future without justice or peace."