Candidates: More troops to Afghanistan

July 15, 2008 3:50:21 PM PDT
Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain - in a rare moment of agreement on foreign policy - called in separate speeches Tuesday for thousands more American troops to fight growing violence in Afghanistan, but they gave no ground on their profound differences about the Iraq war.As Obama prepared to travel to both countries, he laid out a five-point foreign policy strategy, its top goal still being the withdrawal of most American forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. That, he said, would free troops - as many as 7,000 - to fight al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

While McCain said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan needed three additional brigades - nearly 11,000 troops - he said they must be deployed under the kind of revamped strategy that has brought down violence in Iraq. He further claimed that he knew more than Obama about "how to win wars."

"I know how to do that," he said.

McCain insisted in his Albuquerque, New Mexico, speech that the U.S. military effort in Iraq was working and would be successful in Afghanistan as well. And he accused Obama of offering misguided military plans for the region before he's even set foot in the country.

The Republican also vowed: "I will get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice." The U.S. has pursued the al-Qaida leader futilely since the group's Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

While American voters are consumed with the precipitous economic downturn at home, the No. 1 issue this presidential election year, Obama and McCain have been most sharply divided on their war strategies.

McCain says Obama's troop withdrawal pledge amounts to surrendering the country to militant forces. Obama says McCain's readiness to prolong the American military presence is only coddling the Iraqi government, hurting America's status globally and distracting from the need to fight al-Qaida and Taliban militants in Afghanistan and along its rugged border with Pakistan.

A new Quinnipiac University poll, meanwhile, showed Obama leading McCain nationally 50 percent to 41 percent, with a 2.4 percentage point margin of error.

In his speech in Washington, Obama said America must stop "pushing the entire burden of our foreign policy on to the brave men and women of our military."

He is visiting Iraq and Afghanistan this month after McCain sharply criticized him for vowing to withdraw American troops without having been to Iraq to consult with U.S. commander Gen.

David Petraeus. Obama visited the country as part of a congressional delegation earlier in the war.

But Obama was resolute in his criticism of the conflict in which more than 4,000 American forces and an untold number of Iraqis have perished in a war that he claims has tied the U.S. military down in the wrong country.

"It is unacceptable that almost seven years after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on our soil, the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are still at large," Obama said.

"Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahari (bin Laden's No. 2) are recording messages to their followers and plotting more terror. The Taliban controls parts of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida has an expanding base in Pakistan that is probably no farther from their old Afghan sanctuary than a train ride from Washington to Philadelphia. ...

And yet today, we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan."

Obama was particularly critical of Pakistan for failing to resolutely deny al-Qaida a sanctuary. Nevertheless, he called for a major boost in aid to the civilian population.

"That's why I'm co-sponsoring a bill with (Senators) Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaida. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam."

In addition to ending the Iraq war and shifting American forces to Afghanistan, Obama said his five-point strategy would: -Secure "all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue nations."

-Achieve "true energy security."

-Rebuild "our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

The speech comes a day after publication of an Obama opinion piece in The New York Times that called for an estimated 7,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On Monday night in Cincinnati, Obama was welcomed by the annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention, where in a stirring speech to the oldest U.S. civil rights organization, he insisted blacks must show greater responsibility for improving their own lives.

The man who could become the first black president urged Washington to give more help for education and economic assistance and called on corporate America to greater social responsibility.

He received heaviest applause as he urged blacks to demand more of themselves.

"If we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There's nothing wrong with saying that," Obama said.

He added: "I know some say I've been too tough on folks talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report, I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because as much I'm out there to fight to make sure that government's doing its job ... none of it will make a difference - at least not enough of a difference - if we also don't at the same time seize more responsibility in our own lives."

Obama, who grew up without his father, has spoken and written at length about issues of parental responsibility and fathers participating in their children's lives. A similar speech on Father's Day last month prompted an awkward rebuke from the Rev.

Jesse Jackson, a Democratic presidential contender in 1984 and 1988, a protege of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

and a fellow Chicago political activist.

Jackson apologized last week after being caught saying on an open microphone that he wanted to castrate Obama for speaking down to blacks.

McCain is scheduled to address the NAACP's 99th meeting on Wednesday.