Washington: President Barack Obama has already ordered his new Afghan strategy into force, the White House said Monday, as the US leader informed world leaders of a plan expected to include a huge troop surge.
The White House said Obama delivered the fateful orders, marking the most crucial leadership test of his presidency so far, on Sunday, after telling top aides of his decision following an exhaustive months-long policy review.
"The president communicated his final decision on the strategy in the Oval Office and issued orders on the strategy's implementation," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama will on Tuesday tell Americans his plans for the war, his expectations that the US commitment will not be open-ended, and his definition of victory, in a major televised speech to cadets at West Point military academy.
He will address a nation weary of years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and humbled by the worst economic crisis in generations, to explain the reasons for risking even more American blood and treasure.
His message will be compelling listening for American voters, lawmakers and soldiers, US allies, leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents battling Washington in a bloody eight-year war.
Obama is expected to announce between 30,000 and 35,000 reinforcements as part of a new strategy intended to "finish the job" in the war, after what the White House says was years of neglect during the Bush administration.
The White House said that Obama called French President Nicolas Sarkozy to update him on his decision on Monday. He also planned to telephone Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later.
A secure video link-up with Gordon Brown was also planned Monday, after the British prime minister announced he would increase British regular troop numbers by 500 to 9,500 in December.
Obama also planned to talk to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who both will be key players in the new strategy before delivering his speech at 8:00 pm Tuesday (0100 GMT Wednesday).
Asked why Obama was informing world leaders of his plans before telling the American people, Gibbs said that the president would not go into specifics on troop numbers.
Intense consultations with key players in Congress, where some majority Democrats have expressed skepticism about new troop deployments, were taking place on Monday and Tuesday, Gibbs said.
Obama delivered the fateful orders in his constitutional role as commander in chief in the Oval Office on Sunday, after one final consultation with members of his war cabinet, Gibbs said.
He spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by telephone, then met Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs; White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and General David Petraeus, head of US central command.
He later held a video conference with Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, who warned earlier this year the conflict would be lost without more troops -- and US ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry.
Obama faces intense pressure at his speech in West Point, New York, to offer an exit strategy for skeptical Americans, but also to convince Afghan leaders and tribes the United States will not walk away from the eight-year conflict.
There were 35,000 American soldiers fighting the Taliban-led insurgency when Obama became president. After an initial boost in February there are now about 68,000. Tuesday's announcement could see troop levels triple under his tenure.
More than 900 American soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and October was the deadliest month since the start of the war in 2001 with 74 US soldiers killed.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost 768.8 billion dollars and by the end of this fiscal year (October 2010) the price tag will approach one trillion.
The New York Times reported in Monday editions that Obama plans to lay out a specific timetable for ending the war.
"He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down," the paper quoted a senior administration official as saying.
First Published: Monday, November 30, 2009, 23:28