By Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- President Obama plans Friday to unveil his long-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan, calling for sending as many as 4,000 more troops to train and advise the Afghan military, along with hundreds more civilian advisers to help the Afghan government.
The reinforcements -- aimed at beating back a Taliban resurgence in the country and preventing Al Qaeda from reforming a launching pad for terrorist strikes -- come in addition to 17,000 combat troops Obama already announced that he would deploy this spring. They would bring the total number of US forces in the country to nearly 60,000; there are another 32,000 NATO troops.
Obama's decision to send additional US troops has drawn praise from many in Congress, who worried that the mission there suffered from neglect since 2003, as troops and resources flowed to Iraq, though some are wary of the build-up. Last year, with 155 US military deaths in Afghanistan, was the bloodiest for US forces since the war began in 2001.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the renewed focus on Afghanistan, but expressed concern today that the new strategy should set out limited, realistic goals, and not be an open-ended commitment for more troops and more money.
"I want to hear with clarity what... the mission is," Kerry said. "Because there just have to be some limits."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Mexico today that Obama is proposing "an integrated military-civilian strategy," and that the effective use of "civilian trainers, aid workers, technical assistance" is critical to success. It was not clear how many civilian advisers Obama will propose.
Today, Obama's nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan -- Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a Harvard-educated military official who has served two tours in Afghanistan -- appeared to set the stage for Obama's announcement, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that additional US military trainers were badly needed to bolster the Afghan army.
He said the White House supported the Afghan government's goal to expand its army to 120,000 troops by next year. "This will be contingent on our ability to deliver a sufficient number of trainers," said Eikenberry, who said it has been evident since 2006 that "more energy was needed for the Afghan national army."
Eikenberry said the Obama administration is also trying to beef up coordination with neighboring Pakistan to reduce safe havens for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who strike at Afghanistan across a lawless border. The State Department has already held a rare, trilateral meeting in Washington with top Pakistani and Afghan officials, and will hold another meeting in May aimed at intelligence cooperation, he said at his confirmation hearing.
Obama, who briefed congressional leaders in person and Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari by phone late today, was also expected to included increased humanitarian aid to Pakistan in his new strategy.
For more than a year, Kerry and Vice President Biden, the Foreign Relations Committee's former chairman, have sought to dramatically increase development aid to Pakistan, contingent on its government stepping up its fight against the militants.
Today, Kerry said he would reintroduce the measure in a bill that would triple humanitarian assistance to $1.5 billion a year -- a move that officials said the White House supports.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.