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Obama To Outline Afghan Strategy

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

After weeks of rumor, speculation and leaks, the number is 30,000: 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. Tonight, President Obama will announce plans to deploy those troops over the next six months, that's according to administration sources. And that number will be a central part of the president's speech tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The president is expected to announce that he wants those troops deployed more quickly than usual. And he will discuss how long he thinks the mission will last.

For more, NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from the White House. And Don, we're going to talk about that number, 30,000 troops, in a moment. But first, let's talk a bit about what the president is expected to say about what U.S. goals are in Afghanistan.

DON GONYEA: Right. Senior administration officials are talking on background this afternoon that president will discuss the goal of degrading the Taliban-backed insurgency. He will talk about how things have gotten far worse there over the past three or four years, and how this needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed quickly. That's why the U.S. troops that he is sending in will be deployed at an accelerated pace. It will be over six months instead of the usual 12 or 18 months that it might normally be expected to take. But the two things the president will talk about that they will need to see: first, by beating back the insurgency, he says that will provide time and space that will allow Afghan forces to be trained. So, look for him to talk about that tonight. And second, a diminished Taliban force will be weaker and thus it will be easier for those Afghan security forces to handle once they do take over.

BLOCK: And Don, 30,000 troops - these will be U.S. forces. What about help from NATO countries and additional troops from them?

GONYEA: The president will talk about the expectation that NATO will be sending some more troops, perhaps 5,000, perhaps more than that. But he will also highlight that there are 40,000 or so troops currently there, they come from some 44 different countries. He will talk about how important it is to have the entire world, the world involved in this mission. But let's be clear: The U.S. is doing the real heavy-lifting here, with 100,000 U.S. troops expected to be in place by next summer.

BLOCK: And Don, what should we be expecting to hear from President Obama tonight about timetables, specific benchmarks that he will be looking for on the Afghan side?

GONYEA: We will hear something tonight that we did not hear during the past administration when they talked about Iraq and Afghanistan. We will hear a date: July of 2011. Now, let me tell you what the White House stresses that date is not. It is not the goal for the end of the mission, period. It is when that transfer of security to Afghan forces will begin. But how fast that transfer takes place, how long it lasts, which would be the ultimate end date, those things will be determined by conditions on the ground.

BLOCK: So, no fixed endpoint, but at the same time, the message coming from the White House is that this will not be an open-ended mission. How are they reconciling those two things?

GONYEA: The White House is not, you know, this afternoon, reconciling them. That's going to be an interesting thing to see how the president does it tonight. They do stress that they do not intend to commit forces in Afghanistan indefinitely. The wiggle room is that they say this will be a long-term partnership. But in terms of massive numbers of U.S. forces there, that will come to an end at some point.

BLOCK: And what about the - both the politics and the public-opinion side of this announcement, Don? The president is facing an audience here at home that's increasingly skeptical about the war in Afghanistan. How does he plan on addressing that part of things?

GONYEA: That's the part of the speech that does not involve facts and figures and numbers and dates. That's the part we have to hear tonight and the American people will be listening very closely. We're waiting to see how he puts this together, how he solves it.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Don Gonyea at the White House. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

BLOCK: And you can hear the president's speech tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on many NPR stations and live streaming at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.