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President Obama Reveals Afghanistan Strategy

Aired December 1, 2009 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States getting ready to speak at West Point before cadets, soldiers, other invited guests.

He will speaking not only to them. He will be speaking to the entire nation, indeed, to the entire world.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here at CNN, together with Campbell Brown.

This is a speech, Campbell, that the president has worked on, not just for days or weeks, but literally for months, as he has met with his top national security advisers.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And, Wolf, many of the -- his key national security team in that room tonight as he presents his speech.

And they are going to be making this case well beyond tonight. One prime-time speech to the country is not going to do it. They have a campaign to win the American people over, to -- to get people behind this commitment that the president has decided to make.

BLITZER: And this is -- you're looking at these live pictures of Eisenhower Theater at West Point. The president will be introduced very, very shortly. The cadets will be there.

This is not like a speech before a joint session of Congress, where there will be a lot of standing ovations and interruptions with applause.

There will be applause at the start, at the end, but relatively restrained. These are military professionals, when all is said and done.

The president of the United States getting ready to be introduced right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.




OBAMA: Thank you. Please, be seated.

Good evening.

To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our armed services, and to my fellow Americans, I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan, the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion.

It's an extraordinary honor for me to do so here at West Point, where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security and to represent what is finest about our country.

To address these important issues, it's important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place.

We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station.

Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda, a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. al Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban, a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.

Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them, an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98-0; the vote in the House was 420-1.

For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5, the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies, and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda's terrorist network and to protect our common security.

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy -- and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden -- we sent our troops into Afghanistan.

Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.

At a conference convened by the U. N. , a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here. It's enough to say that, for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention, and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.

Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of the men and women in uniform.


Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance, we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.

But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.

Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swathes of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

Now, throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war.

Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. And that's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a longstanding request for more troops.

After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts. Since then, we've made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we've stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda worldwide.

In Pakistan, that nation's army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and although it was marred by fraud, that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution.

Yet huge challenges remain: Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years, it has moved backwards. There's no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population.

Our new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short, the status quo is not sustainable.

As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Some of you will deploy there. As your commander-in-chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service.

And that's why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy.

Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military, and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners.

And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people and our troops no less.

This review is now complete. And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions.

We have been at war now for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you, a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens.

As president, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I have visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I have traveled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place.

I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.

This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.

We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda. And to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future. We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I'm announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010, the fastest possible pace, so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They'll increase our ability to train competent Afghan security forces and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.

Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now we must come together to end this war successfully. For 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.

Now, taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy so that the government can take advantage of improved security. This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over.

President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance.

We'll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas such as agriculture that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

Now, the people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. they have been confronted with occupation by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand: America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect, to isolate those who destroy, to strengthen those who build, to hasten the day when our troops will leave, and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner and never your patron.

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan. We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. And that's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence.

But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan, and there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. And those days are over.

Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear.

America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

And I recognize there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the more prominent arguments that I have heard and which I take very seriously. First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized and we're better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. I believe this argument depends on a false reading of history.

Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.

To abandon this area now and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Second, there are those who acknowledge that we can't leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we already have, but this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan security forces and give them the space to take over.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort, one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.

Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. 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.

As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don't have the luxury of committing to just one.

Indeed, I'm mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who, in discussing our national security, said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children.

Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce, so we can't simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. And going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military; it underwrites our diplomacy; it taps the potential of our people and allows investment in new industry; and it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last.

That's why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open- ended: because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.

Now, let me be clear. None of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict, not just how we wage wars. We'll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold -- whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere -- they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we can't count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we can't capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. And that's why I have made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists, to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them, because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons. True security will come for those who reject them.

We'll have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone. I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim world, one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

And, finally, we must draw on the strength of our values, for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That's why we must promote our values by living them at home, which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights and tend for the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the source, the moral source of America's authority. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents and great grandparents, our country has born a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades. A time for all its problems have seen walls come down and markets opened and billions lifted from proverty. Unparallel scientific progress and advancing frontiers of human liberty. For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. 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. What we have fought for, what we continue to fight for is a better future for our children and grandchildren and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.


As a country, we're not as young and perhaps not as innoncent as we were went Roosevelt was president. Yet, we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. And now we must summon all of our might and moral susaion(sp) to meet the challenge of a new age. In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people. From the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy, from the entreprenuers and researchers who will pioneer new industries, from the teachers that will educate our children and the service of those who work in our communities at home. From the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people and for the people a reality on this earth.


This vast and diverse citizenry(ph) will not always agree on every iseue, nor should we. But I also know that we as a country cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that is in recent times poisoned our national discourse. It's easy to forget that when this war began, we were united. Bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe --


I believe with every fiber of my being that we as Americans can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment. They are a creed that calls us together and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, as one people. America, we are passing through a time of great through a time of great trial (ph) and the message that send in the midst of these storms must be clear: That our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might and with the committment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure and future that represents not the deepest of fears, but the highest of hopes. Thank you. God bless you and God Bless the United States of America.


Thank you very much. Thank you.

BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking for about 35 minutes. Excuse me. Making the case for an additional 30,000 U.S. troops being deployed to Afghanistan. He wants to get them there within the next six months.

But then, Campbell Brown, within a few seconds, he then said, you know what? A year and a half from now, he's going to start withdrawing those forces from Afghanistan, July 2011. So it's a temporary surge he's announcing. He's hoping over the next 18 months that they can start to get the job done.

BROWN: And it's the ultimate commander-in-chief moment for him, if you will, Wolf. Did he pass the test?

And a lot of people are going to be parsing the language of the speech tonight, including our team here in just a few minutes. But at the end of the day, we will know, these troops are going. And at the end of 18 months, there will be a tangible reality that we're all going to be dealing with about whether or not this worked or not.

BLITZER: He's meeting some of the cadets who gathered at West Point to hear their commander-in-chief make the case for this temporary escalation in the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. We're going to have complete analysis of what the president has said, what it means. It's a very complex, risky strategy.

We've got our national security team here, our political team. We've got the best analysts. Our reporters, many of whom have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. They're watching what's going on, and they're trying to digest. And we'll assess what's going on as well.

You know, one thing we saw some of those viewing parties, people gathering, all over the country. Here in Chicago, for example, you can see some of the folks who gathered there. We didn't see a whole lot of reaction at least visibly to what the president was saying.

Here at Camp Pendleton out in California, a limited reaction there as well. We'll speak to some of them over the course of the next hour or so. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, we saw some of the reaction from family, from loved ones of U.S. troops who are already deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. And some of the soldiers who are right now on the front line in the war zone in Kandahar in Afghanistan, you see some of the troops that gathered there to watch the commander-in-chief. It's only about 6:00 a.m. in Afghanistan right now.

So this is going to be a tough challenge for the president to go forward. Not only the national security challenges, but the political challenges he faces here at home.

BROWN: Indeed. Incredibly difficult argument to make on the political front. But as you mention, Wolf, the complicated logistics of actually making this happen on the ground. Our folks are going to talk us through that in a few minutes as well.

BLITZER: Let's go to John King right now. He's at the magic map with Michael Ware. Michael has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.

Guys, you know the story quite well. The challenges are daunting.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you heard the president make the policy argument why he's sending more troops. You heard him answer some of his political supporters and his critics. Let's take a closer look with Michael Ware at the challenge the president outlined tonight.

Let's just begin right here. Here's your map of Afghanistan. The capital, Kabul is here. Some of the more dicey regions here.

Let me start by showing you the state of play right now by bringing in the current troop levels just quickly to refresh. About 45,000 NATO troops, about 68,000 U.S. troops now. The president says he will add 30,000 plus to that.

And let's close it down, Michael Ware. What is most significant just as a quick set up about this map? You see most of the American flags down here. The NATO forces up here.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the flags say it all, John. This is an American war.

Now, with a NATO antes up with more troops or not, which most likely it's not except in a tokenistic sense. Look at the NATO flags. Where's the conflict? It's not there. The conflict is down here on the Pakistani border region.

KING: Let me jump in and illustrate as you talk. Keep going. WARE: That's where this war is being fought. America, Britain, even the Aussies in Rose Garden (ph) province, that's where the battle is. NATO isn't in it. This is an American war. That's what that tells us.

KING: To reinforce your point, inside the line where you saw most of the American troops, the darker the province, the stronger the Taliban. So the greatest Taliban presence --

WARE: Some of these provinces, darker. Kandahar, the capital city is under siege. Zabol, the entire districts that are Taliban control right at this moment. Paktika, I mean, most of that is under Taliban influence if not controlled. And remember, there's an American soldier still being hostage. He was taken out of this area and is somewhere around here. So, I would make this a lot darker.

KING: And let's reinforce the region. You're in this area right here. We're focusing on this side of the border, which is Afghanistan, a huge military challenge. But the president did make the point that even if things go perfectly here, you still have a giant question as to what happens in Pakistan.

WARE: Absolutely. The war in Afghanistan is not going to be ultimately won or lost in Afghanistan. There's a lot of other pieces. Key to that is Pakistan. These sanctuaries, these safe havens. Now let's remember.

KING: I just want to show one view. I'll interrupt you for one second.

Safe havens, we believe Osama bin Laden.

WARE: Most likely people say he's here in this region. But let's not forget there's two Taliban. There's an Afghan Taliban, and there's a Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani military right now is fighting the Pakistani Taliban. Right? But that's not the only sanctuary. All of this -- all of it is Taliban sanctuary. Indeed, down here in the Pakistani city of Quetta, it's known by American intelligence, by Ambassador Holbrooke as the home of the Taliban Shura (ph). So all of that is Taliban and anti-American militant safe haven not just the highlighted areas.

KING: I want to do one of the -- I want to show another thing to illustrate two points. Number one, the president talked about the past and the underresourcing, under U.S. resourcing. And he talked about mistakes that were made. He said the Al Qaeda leadership was allowed to escape.

This, of course, is Tora Bora where they believe back in the early days, Osama bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. Instructive not only to talk about past mistakes, but also, Michael, the terrain. This is not Iraq. This is not flat desert.

WARE: Absolutely not. Now a very key lesson was learned in this battle in 2001. There, American special forces relied on -- American special forces relied on Afghan militia to do most of the fighting. Well, Osama paid them more than we did. So he just slipped through the back door, which you can see, you know, there's a myriad of back doors.

So the next big battle in similar terrain in March, 2002, operate in Shah cult (ph), that was American-led and fought. That was the first lesson. The second lesson. Look at this, mate. Look at this.

This border region -- this is the end of the Himalayas. These valleys swallow infantry divisions whole. How on earth do you ever expect anyone, let alone the Afghans, even the American military to seal that? It's just not going to happen.

KING: Well, then on that point as we make this go away, let's come back to where we are in terms of the troops today. The president said he can send in 30,000 more. He hopes to get several thousand more from the NATO allies. And he makes the case to the American people so that you may be opposed to this. But more now is the solution to getting out sooner.

WARE: Yes.

KING: Three years he says you can have the Afghans up into training and begin to transition to hand back them all of these difficult areas. Based on the past experience, training the Afghans, keeping them in the security forces once they join up, what are the challenges?

WARE: Well, first, like you say, you've got to put together as quickly as possible an Afghan fighting force that whether it's held together by sticky tape or string like the Iraqi security forces, can at least be effective to some degree. At least that gives you something. But it's not enough.

I mean, Kandahar, Helmand, do you know how many Afghan troops are down there? Virtually none. They're just token presences. You know who controls those regions? If it's not the Taliban, it's the local district chief. It's the local tribal chief. They're the people America needs to reach out to, either until the Army is built or even after. You're not going to be able to do anything without local partners.

KING: And as the president discussed the challenge tonight in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, as well, you make the case that something was missing.

WARE: Yes. OK. We heard Pakistan mentioned. That was the key word, but it was such a brief passing mention. It was the rhetoric that we heard before from previous administrations.

The true story of this Afghan war is that Saudi Arabia is playing a hand in here. Iran is playing a hand in here. India has enormous concern in Pakistan because Pakistan and India are rivals. They're using Afghanistan as yet another battlefield. So, where was any kind of consideration from the president about the regional approach? This broad chess game that needs to be played to get Americans home from there?

KING: So, Campbell, we lay out there some of the policy challenges. Michael making the case that the president left out a few pieces of the neighborhood, but as we showed you on the ground in Afghanistan across the border in Pakistan, a huge military challenge for the president. And in that speech, Campbell, you heard full well, not only the outline why he made these decisions but also piece by piece trying to address what he knows is a huge political debate back here at home.

BROWN: Indeed it is, John. And we're going to get into the politics of this with our political folks in just a few moments. But I want to talk a little bit more to our guys who have been there, who spent time on the ground, and who really understand how complicated this is going to be.

And, Nic Robertson, you were saying a moment ago, yes we have a surge or we are launching this surge. But so are the Taliban.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Taliban will look at this, look at what is being said. Look at the 18 months. They'll look at their own agenda. They want to see a weakening of support in the United States for this war because that's going to help them win their war. So they will look to surge around the time of the midterm elections.

They will look to surge as we get, geared up for the next round of presidential elections. They will be looking to redeploy. They'll watch where the new troops go. They will move themselves on their own battlefields, roads, to where they feel that they can better contribute. If the towns like Kandahar are better secured, then they'll just drop further below the radar. Still mount attacks there. So they're going to be watching this and coming up with their own tactics.

What I didn't hear here that I was looking for, was how we're actually going to fight this differently on the ground. There are going to be more troops, but I didn't hear anything substantial that told me that tactics that we're using are going to change. And those tactics so far aren't working.

BROWN: Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, obviously there are the non-negotiable Taliban, the major Taliban who are going to come in from the cold and who will fight as Nic says. These 30,000 troops are desperately needed and more are needed which is why NATO is going to be called upon to try to ante up as well.

There's another issue here and that is the $10 a day Taliban. Those Taliban who are not really committed but who have nothing better to do and no other way to earn a living.

BROWN: Who may be able to be brought on. AMANPOUR: And there needs to be infrastructure to be able to bring them in. Right now, despite all the talk about bringing on side reconcilable Taliban, there is no infrastructure. There is no way they know how to come in and only several thousands have done so over the last several years. So there needs to be a major well-defined amnesty program if that is going to happen.

In terms of the civilian surge, again very, very few details on that. Almost sort of...

BROWN: Glossed over.

AMANPOUR: ... glossed over that. And actually said no nation- building. Whereas whatever you want to call it, most people believe that there really does have to be a very solid infrastructure laid down for development. And no moral point about the Afghan people. It was extraordinary even in March he talked very, very significantly about the horrors that the Taliban had visited on the Afghan people, the horrors against women and children, the whole, you know, terrible thing that if the Taliban came back in control. None of that in this speech tonight.

So it was very pragmatic. It was very perfunctory. But I think very importantly, more troops are needed.

Look, every time we turn around, another U.S. general or colonel is being quoted as saying that "I do not have the troops to dominate where I need to dominate." And Kandahar is going to be a first and early test.

BROWN: So are they still going to be saying that, Barbara Starr, tomorrow when you go to Afghanistan?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I think there's no question. I mean, it's that old phrase, logistics, logistics, logistics. Supplies, people, boots on the ground, combat power. The president talked about this military strategy of breaking the momentum of the Taliban. Exactly how do you do that when you have already announced you're going to start drawing down in 18 months?

By the time you get everyone you want there, you're already on the down slope. This will be extremely difficult.

AMANPOUR: Barbara is right. Because in fact over the last eight years, it's been eight, one-year wars because of the constant deployment and redeployment, and getting people up and going. Just when they get their feet, you know, wet and get to know the terrain and know the people and make the personal connections --

ROBERTSON: The local commandos.

AMANPOUR: Then they sort of redeploy. But I think that's very key. But I think also people should not be too depressed because in seven weeks in 2001, U.S. forces defeated the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They threw them out. It was because they lost and took the eye off the ball that they came back. So I believe it's possible. STARR: But I think, Campbell, what the president did tonight is he put boundaries around what the military will do. He spoke right here about what we can achieve at a reasonable cost. He has put boundaries around it.

This is not overwhelming for us. This is not overwhelming diplomacy, not overwhelming economic aid. All of this is boundaries not to be flip about if there's any good news, maybe there weren't any gate crashers at West Point as far as we know.

ROBERTSON: When we talk about reconciliation, who are these Afghans going to reconcile with? They don't trust President Karzai. They don't trust the people that he has in place, in the provinces around the country. These are the people they've been fighting. There's a huge trust deficit in this area of the war in Kandahar along the border.

BROWN: And you're just touching on the point. I mean, Karzai must be a partner for this to work and not a reliable partner at that, we already know. And his point tonight was the days of providing blank checks are over, which is what he said regarding Karzai. But how on earth do you set benchmarks for the Karzai government that are achievable in any way?

STARR: What's the price? What is the price? What are you going to do?

WARE: If you don't leap in, someone else will step in.

AMANPOUR: The only way you can. Look, in the beginning in 2001, 2002, there was tangible progress. There was less corruption. There was diminuation (ph) of the opium. There were governors and the political system going on.

It is not impossible. This is the last chance to do this properly. It's the last chance to reset the clock and really go and do this properly. The thing that is a concern is this 18 months to start withdrawing.

BROWN: Well, you said reset the clock. But, Wolf, it is a clock that is ticking with a deadline that was set by the president tonight.

BLITZER: Yes. Two deadlines in fact that the president said. Campbell, he made it clear that over the next six months the U.S. will deploy another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan bringing the U.S. troop level to about 100,000. But within 18 months, the president says he will start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He did not say how long it would take to get a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. But he would start withdrawing from that 100,000 level in July of 2011.

We're standing by. We're going to get reaction from a key Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. We have our political strategist here. We have our political analysts here. This is going to be a huge effort on the part of the president to sell this to the American people. Our coverage will continue right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Welcome back everybody. We've got more analysis now on the president's speech on Afghanistan. You heard from our people who have been there on the ground, from John King walking through the complications that the military is going to face on the ground given the decisions made by the president.

We want to bring in our political panel and talk a little bit about the political ramifications.

Donna Brazile, give me your general reaction? Were you surprised by anything you heard? Was it substantive enough, specific enough?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, if you read the speech back in March and you added this, you got a good sense that the president followed through on the recommendations that he received from his generals that he needed more troops.

What I feel a little uneasy about, of course, is President Karzai. I think President Obama was sending that timeline, that message to President Karzai that, you know what, you're on the clock, dude. We want to bring our troops home. And if you don't get your act together, start talking to your people, build the infrastructure, help us recruit the troops so that we can have a stable Afghanistan government and an army, we're bringing our troops home. You know what? I thought the president had to send that message.

BROWN: But isn't that a message that may be for Karzai but it's heard also by the Taliban? Mary, and everybody else, he says OK, all we have to do is wait them out. They're not serious. They're going to be out by 2011.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's what you don't want to do is trigger the terrorist clock. They've been waiting 80 years. They'll wait 18 more months on this.

If you look at it from the big picture, essentially what the speech was was a rehash of the Bush Doctrine. We're not -- we're going to go after those who harbor terrorists. We're not going to provide any safe haven. We're going to beef up homeland security. We need to maintain a better relationship with Pakistan.

BROWN: But that should make you happy.

MATALIN: It does make me happy. But then he goes on to be half, just a little bit pregnant, which is, we all know, impossible. More troops is not just how many troops, it's how you deploy them. It doesn't seem like there will be enough troops to do what McChrystal wants to do which is a counterinsurgency strategy, which is different from counterterrorism.

You have to protect the population. It's the precondition of advancing the ball. So I don't know what is 30 when McChrystal wanted 65. Is that enough?

BROWN: He did use, Paul, the word escalation, which -- you don't often hear anybody want to actually come out and say.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, when you go from 23,000 troops three years ago to 100,000 troops six months from now, it's kind of hard to argue it's not an escalation. I will say General McChrystal has said he's very happy with this, so he seems to at least be placated. It will be interesting to see whether the American people are.

This is not the Bush Doctrine. It's the Powell doctrine. General Powell included -- this is way back in Bush 1 -- when he set out standards to go to war. So he had to have a powerful national interest. You have the country united behind me. You have to have sufficient overwhelming force to win, and you need an exit strategy.

The debate I think that we're going to have in the coming weeks is, is including an exit strategy part of a wise military strategy? I mean, clearly Mary, others will say no, that that's sounding an uncertain trumpet as St. Paul wrote.

Well, no, I think other are going to say no, General Powell is right. We can't -- we're not going to invade, conquer and occupy huge countries for thousands of years just in case the Taliban comes back.

BROWN: But wasn't that exit strategy in part to appeal to the left? I mean, that his problem right now, his base. And is he going to lose them?

BEGALA: Sure, there were some in who are (INAUDIBLE) tonight. I don't think that's what it is. I think at least, for tonight, we have to entertain the notion that after three months of study, the commander-in-chief standing in front of West Point is actually doing what he thinks is best for the military and interest of the United States.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, UNPAID ADVISER TO RNC: Perhaps he is. But you know, he put a very political cast on it tonight, too. He was -- I thought he gave a good speech, by the way. He was emotional. You can see the passion, especially when he's talking about what he's had to sacrifice. He's asking our young and women in that audience in front of him to make tonight.