Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller
The Los Angeles Times
February 18, 2009

President Obama ordered his first major deployment of U.S. combat troops Tuesday, authorizing 17,000 additional soldiers and Marines for Afghanistan in what he described as an urgent bid to stabilize a deteriorating and neglected country.

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The deployment will double the number of American combat brigades in the nation at a time of tension with Afghanistan’s weak government over civilian casualties of the campaign against the increasingly bold Taliban, and concern over neighboring Pakistan’s ability to fight Islamic militants based there.

In a statement announcing the troop increase, Obama directed veiled criticism at the Bush administration, noting that a request from Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had been pending for months.

“This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama said.

In undertaking the “solemn duty” to dispatch troops to war, Obama also delved into one of the main issues of his long presidential campaign. While denouncing the Iraq war as a mistake, Obama repeatedly pledged to refocus on Afghanistan.

Though fulfilling requests submitted by U.S. commanders, Tuesday’s order leaves crucial questions of strategy and tactics unanswered until a strategy review is completed in April. In a hint that his strategy would include more than military power, Obama said he would “employ all elements” of U.S. government resources to meet achievable goals, with help from U.S. allies.

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