Veterans react to Obama's address on Afghanistan

December 1, 2009 8:43:00 PM PST
In a prime-time speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president said his new policy was designed to "bring this war to a successful conclusion." The troop buildup will begin almost immediately -- the first Marines will be in place by Christmas -- and will cost $30 billion for the first year alone.Click here to watch Obama's entire speech

"We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven," Obama said in articulating U.S. military goals for a war that has dragged on for eight years. "We must reverse the Taliban's momentum. ... And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government."

The president said the additional forces would be deployed at "the fastest pace possible so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers."

Their destination: "the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaida."

"It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak," the president said.

It marked the second time in his young presidency that Obama has added to the American force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently made significant advances. When he became president last January, there were roughly 34,000 troops on the ground; there now are 71,000.

Millions of Americans listened Tuesday night to the president outline his strategy to end the war in Afghanistan. Among them were men and women who've experienced war firsthand.

As President Barack Obama told the nation that the status quo in Afghanistan is no longer sustainable, veterans at V.F.W. Post 9284 in Elk Grove Village were tuning in to hear the president's new direction.

"Obama is incredibly eloquent. He's extremely intelligent and and he's making a lot of the right decisions," said Morris Pumphrey, veteran.

On the biggest decision announced on Tuesday night - deploying a surge of 30,000 additional troops - like many, Vietnam veteran Bill Firestone wonders if it goes far enough.

"Thirty thousand men, and there will probably be only about 3,000 fighting men. I think they need more," said Firestone.

"I feel like he has a plan, whereas we're were going nowhere before, in all different directions," said Carrie Havell, V.F.W. Post 9284 employee.

Most people at the V.F.W. post Tuesday night said that the Iraq war was a mistake and that President Obama is now trying to correct the mistakes of the past.

But Bill Evans, a veteran of the Korean War, thinks Obama is making a mistakes by already declaring a timetable for withdrawal in July of 2011.

"I think it is wrong. I think you go in and you take them out because it has to be," said Evans.

Overall, President Obama got high marks from most of the veterans gathered at the V.F.W. post but some still wonder if Afghanistan is a winnable war.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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