Seeking an early exit, Barack Obama staked his presidency on a massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan, ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops into a bloody counter-insurgency with the promise to start bringing them home in July 2011.
The huge and rapid reinforcement, coupled with up to 10,000 additional troops from European allies, will put more than 150,000 foreign troops into Afghanistan by next summer - more than the Soviets deployed at the peak of their decade-long failed effort to subjugate the remote and rugged Central Asian nation.
Facing a war-weary nation in a nationally televised address, Mr. Obama said he only decided to escalate the war because he believed the security of the Western world hung in the balance.
"If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow," the President told a reserved crowd of military cadets Tuesday night at West Point, the army's elite university for officers.
Instead, Mr. Obama will more than triple - to 98,000 - the number of U.S. troops, compared with the 32,000 in Afghanistan when he took office less than a year ago.
Mr. Obama said the Taliban insurgency has rapidly gained control over huge sections of Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is not lost but for several years it has moved backwards," he said in the uncharacteristically low-key speech.
While the President said he wanted to bring American troops home - within three years, or just before he faces American voters in 2012 for a second term in the White House - the speech was also notable for the narrowness of the objectives he set.
There was no mention of nation-building, of education for girls, of making sure Afghanistan remains a democracy or of the elimination the cultivation of opium, which forms the basis of the poverty-stricken, war-ravaged, county's narco-economy.
Instead, the rapid training of sufficient Afghan soldiers and police so the Kabul regime could defend itself will be signal to leave - roughly the same military and political exit strategy set for out for Iraq.
Mr. Obama's long-delayed decision - coming months after top commanders warned of failure unless tens of thousands of additional troops were sent into the fray - quickly drew attacks from both his political opponents and leading members of his own party.
"The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving," warned Senator John McCain, the Republican Mr. Obama beat in the presidential election last year.
Mr. Obama, sought to allay those fears by insisting there would be no hasty withdrawal and no fixed timetable. White House officials, briefing before the speech said "if the Taliban thinks they can wait us out, I think that they're misjudging the President." However the same official said "there's a value in setting a date because it does put everyone under pressure [that] extends to our allies and our Afghan and Pakistani partners."
Attacks from the left wing of his own party were even sharper "I fear we are getting sucked into a war with no end," said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. Sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan will make it 30,000 times harder "to extricate ourselves from this mess. If our fight is truly with al-Qaeda, then we're in the wrong country. They've moved to Pakistan," Mr. McGovern said.
The President acknowledged as much, vowing to "strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known."
The troop surge into Afghanistan echoes the controversial strategy used by former President George W. Bush to quash a nascent civil war in Iraq, and opposed by Mr. Obama.
"It is in a way shock therapy for Afghanistan. It is a bold approach and there is no guarantee of success," Bruce Riedel, who chaired Mr. Obama's first Afghanistan strategy review last spring, told Reuters. "Wars tend to consume presidencies and this is now Obama's war," said Mr. Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Obama offered few details of where the 100,000 U.S. troops - along with another 50,000 allied forces - will be deployed. Many of the reinforcements are expected to be sent to the embattled south, where Canadian troops have been deployed for nearly four years.
"Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan," he said. "Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world."
The President also tried to forestall accusations that he was marching blindly into a quagmire - another Vietnam - by attempting to defeat Afghan insurgents who have ousted great empires for centuries.
"There are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam," Mr. Obama told a reserved crowd of military cadets at West Point, the army's elite university for officers. "They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history."
Mr. Obama said the broad coalition of 40-plus nations, the fact that America was attacked on Sept 11, 2001 and that there was no "broad-based" insurgency in Afghanistan made comparison to Vietnam specious.
He also offered a novel and unprecedented war objective; ending it quickly so the $100-billion (U.S.) annual cost could be redirected to the battered American economy. "Having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home," Mr. Obama said, acknowledging the war-weariness more than eight years after U.S. warplanes began air strikes in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.