It was Bush's war. Now it's Obama's. And the heat is on

The military audience's applause after the President's speech had barely died away before the flak began to fly

It is the soldiers who will bleed and die. But yesterday Barack Obama braced himself for the flak that awaits any American president who decides he must not merely carry another leader's burden, but make a war his own.

Already the critics and doubters are circling like vultures, questioning among other things his mid-2011 deadline to begin withdrawing US troops and handing over responsibility for security to the Afghans themselves.

In his long-awaited speech to the West Point Military Academy on Tuesday evening Mr Obama attempted to satisfy both sides of the debate, announcing a 30,000-strong troop surge that will start within days while at the same time promising that the soldiers deployed would begin their withdrawal in just 18 months.

He may have satisfied few and infuriated many. Liberal activists and many Democrats continued to fret that any surge only takes America deeper into a Vietnam-type quagmire, while conservatives branded the very notion of a deadline to begin the process of pulling out as a military blunder.

"The President's proposal for escalation is going to hit rough waters," warned Tom Andrews, of Win Without War, a liberal group opposed to higher troop levels. "There's going to be a very serious battle ahead over the question," Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat, said flatly. "This is a mistake."

With the cacophony only just starting, the White House sent the President's top deputies to Capitol Hill to begin what may be a long and hard sell to members of both parties. That said, serious debate will not necessarily translate into fireworks or outright opposition.

The atmospherics so far appear a good deal less fraught than when George Bush unveiled his surge for Iraq three years ago. Then the chambers of Congress were invaded by angry anti-war protesters who yesterday were largely absent.

One of the President's own emissaries to the Hill, the Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, muddied the deadline issue suggesting that its viability would come under review at the end of next year. "We're not just going to throw these guys into the swimming pool and walk away," he said.

The stakes remain high for Mr Obama. There will be no more blaming Mr Bush for his being distracted from Afghanistan by the conflict in Iraq. It may be two years or more before the verdict is in on his new strategy – just as he will be seeking re-election.

In Kabul a grateful General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, who had originally sought an increase of 40,000 US troops, said: " This is the end of the beginning."

It will be General McChyrstal's job, with assistance from the Pentagon, to deploy the extra troops to their greatest possibly military effect to turn back recent Taliban gains. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Taliban now have the upper hand in 11 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Mr Gates insisted that not adding to troop numbers was not an option. "Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war. Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida as well as a staging area for resurgent militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan."

Speaking in Kabul, Gen. McChrystal said that the "success of this will be determined in the minds of the Afghan people... It is not the number of people you kill, it is the number of people you convince." He also rejected talk of a withdrawal date allowing the Taliban to leave the battlefield and wait out the clock, because, he said, "that gives the government a good opportunity to make its case effectively to the people".

This was the main concern of many Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, including Senator John McCain. "I support the President's decision, and I think it deserves the support of all Americans, both Republicans and Democrats," Mr McCain said. "What I don't support, and what concerns me greatly, is the President's decision to set an arbitrary date [to begin] the withdrawal."

It was in trying to mollify Mr McCain that Mr Gates seemed to suggest that the 2011 withdrawal promise is not set in stone. "It is our plan to begin this transition process in July 2011. If circumstances dictate in December [2010], I think as I said the President always has the freedom to adjust his decisions," he told the Armed Services Committee.

The cost of the deployments could reach as much as $30bn (£18bn) next year, and with the deficit soaring Mr Obama is being portrayed by conservatives as an overspending, big-government leader who will bankrupt the nation. There seems little doubt, however, that the additional budget lines will eventually be approved.

£18bn

The potential cost of the extra troop numbers approved by President Obama.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect