Macomb, IL – An expert on the Middle East believes President Obama's true mission in the region does not concern Afghanistan but rather a neighboring country.
Roberto Mazza teaches history at Western Illinois University. He has studied the Middle East for a number of years. In addition, he has lived in Istanbul and Jerusalem.
Mazza says most al Qaeda members are probably in Pakistan, which is why that nation was mentioned so many times during Obama's speech on December 1 at West Point. In that speech, Obama announced the US will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan early next year.
"The real mission is not Afghanistan but it's Pakistan," says Mazza. "To make sure the Pakstani politicians take action against al Qaeda members living in Pakistan."
Mazza says one of the major problems in Pakistan - like Afghanistan - is the terrain.
"It's a country of mountains and valleys. There are no major roads. So it's not really easy to have a grip on the entire country," says Mazza.
Mazza thinks President Obama did a good job during his speech of explaining why American troops are needed in Afghanistan and what he hopes to accomplish.
Mazza says he has talked to friends overseas about the president's speech. He says they feel Obama had no alternative but to send more troops to Afghanistan. They also noticed Obama did not dwell on the mistakes the Bush admininstration made in the Middle East.
Mazza says Iran could prove to be a distraction as that nation continues working to develop nuclear reactors.
Congress Questions The President's Plan
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Democrats questioned the wisdom of escalating the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Republicans expressed concerns about the president's plan to start withdrawing troops in 18 months.
Committee Chairman Carl Levin worries about putting "more U.S. Marines on street corners in Afghan villages, with too few Afghan partners alongside them."
Arizona Republican John McCain supports the surge but says it's a mistake to announce in advance when it will end.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissed the idea that "we have locked ourselves into leaving." She says the timeline sends a clear signal that "the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan."
The Taliban Response
The Taliban say President Obama's new war plan for Afghanistan "will not pay off."
A Taliban statement says a troop surge is "no solution for the problems of Afghanistan" and will only bring more American casualties. The statement says it will give insurgents an opportunity "to increase their attacks and shake the American economy."
Thanks to the Associated Press for portions of this story