Obama set to send in 30,000 extra troops

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The Independent US

Barack Obama's aides are putting the finishing touches to a speech expected to announce more than 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan, which they hope will shore up popular support for the war.

Tomorrow, the president will travel to West Point military academy in upstate New York to set out a new battle plan for the eight-year conflict, putting the emphasis on training Afghan soldiers and securing major population centres against the Taliban. After a months-long strategic hiatus, while the White House has debated the US military's request for a surge in troop levels, President Obama faces a nation which now wants to see an end to the war, not its escalation.

The final numbers and other details of the surge are not yet fully known, but senior officials were briefing over the weekend that some 9,000 Marines could begin final preparations for deploying to the country within days.

The other additional troops, which could swell the numbers of American soldiers in Afghanistan by almost 50 per cent from the current 68,000, would be deployed in waves, and could be withheld if the government of Hamid Karzai does not meet promises to clean up corruption, or if there are military changes on the ground.

In a Commons statement today, Gordon Brown is expected to confirm another 500 British troops will be sent to Afghanistan, taking the total number to 9,500. Other Nato allies are preparing to deploy a further 5,000.

The Prime Minister will call on Pakistan to do more to step up the fight against al-Qa'ida and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. On Thursday, Mr Brown will give the same message to Pakistan's Prime Minister Raza Gilani at talks in Downing Street. He spoke to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari by telephone at the weekend.

Mr Brown said yesterday: "People are going to ask, eight years after 2001, why has Osama bin Laden never been near to being caught? We believe he is in Pakistan. Why is [Ayman al-] Zawahiri, who is the number two in control, never been caught? And what can the Pakistan authorities do that is far more effective to help us make sure that the al-Qa'ida threat is dealt with in Pakistan itself? We will want to see more evidence of Pakistan action – not just troops in South Waziristan – but the whole of the government machine taking action."

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