REMARKS BY THE
PRESIDENT TO THE
NATION ON THE WAY FORWARD IN
AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN
Military Academy at West Point
West Point, New
8:01 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: 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
onboard 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 to
nothing. The vote in the House was 420 to 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. (Applause.) 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’ve 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 swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly
brazen and devastating attacks 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
As cadets, you volunteered for
service during this time of danger. Some of you 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 visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I’ve
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
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’ve 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.
But 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
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.
The people of Afghanistan have
endured violence for decades. They’ve 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. 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. 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
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’ve 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
Finally, there are those who
oppose identifying a time frame 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 time frame 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’ve 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. 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’ll 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
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’ve 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’ve 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 to 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
Since the days of Franklin
Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents and
great-grandparents, our country has borne 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 that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, and
markets open, and billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled 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. (Applause.)
As a country, we’re not as young
— and perhaps not as innocent — as we were when 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 suasion to meet the challenges 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 entrepreneurs 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. (Applause.)
This vast and diverse citizenry
will not always agree on every issue — 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 has in recent times poisoned our
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.
(Applause.) 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 trial. And the message that we 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 commitment
to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future
that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes.
Thank you. God bless you. May
God bless the United States of America. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
Thank you. (Applause.)