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Fact check: Obama overlooks some realities

Obama US Afghanistan
President Barack Obama speaks about the war in Afghanistan at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 1.Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday night did not always hew closely to the reality on the ground in Afghanistan.

The president raised expectations that may be hard to meet when he told Americans his troop increase in Afghanistan will accelerate the training of that country's own forces and be accompanied by more help from allies.

A look at some of his claims and how they compare with the facts:

OBAMA: "Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead."

THE FACTS: When Obama says he is confident that allied countries will provide more troops in the weeks ahead he is setting aside years of mostly empty-handed American efforts to get others, including allies in NATO, to deepen their commitment to combat in Afghanistan.

One reason, which Obama did not mention, is that other countries, particularly those in Europe, have viewed the conflict — and its likely solution — much differently than Washington. They have seen it primarily as a humanitarian and reconstruction mission, rather than a counterinsurgency fight. And they have pushed for greater nonmilitary means of addressing Afghanistan's instability.

For a time there also was a European sense of hangover from the U.S. invasion of Iraq and a perceived go-it-alone bent by the Bush administration.

Obama is technically correct in anticipating that some allies will offer more assistance, possibly as early as the coming week during a series of NATO consultations about how the troop requirements of commanders in Afghanistan might be met. But history has shown that these troop contributions often are incremental, sometimes slow in materializing and frequently with conditions attached.

OBAMA: The extra U.S. forces for Afghanistan "will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans. "

THE FACTS: The problem with Afghan forces is not just their lack of numbers. And it's not an unwillingness to fight. The problem too often is their effectiveness, once trained for combat. Too many get into the fight but don't remain or don't perform.

A major change of approach promised by Obama's new chief commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is to partner whole U.S. and NATO combat units with newly fielded Afghan units — large and small — so the Afghans get more exposure to professional military leadership practices and combat tactics. This is an approach that was used to good effect in recent years in Iraq.

OBAMA: "Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war."

THE FACTS: He is correct, despite being accused by former Vice President Dick Cheney of dithering by taking the autumn to review options for Afghanistan.

Former Afghan war commander Gen. David McKiernan asked in 2008 for three brigades — of which two were approved for deployment by Obama in March of this year — but wanted the third to arrive in 2010, not earlier. His successor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, posited a range of troop buildups — favoring about 40,000 — but did not ask for them to be in place as early as this year.