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President Obama is pausing in his relentless campaign for health care changes to bring a leading veterans organization up to date on how he intends to proceed on dual military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the same time, Obama plans in his Phoenix speech later Monday to talk again of efforts he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are making to revamp the way the Pentagon does business, including changes in procedures for developing and acquiring new weapon systems.
Previewing the talk to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will "talk about where we currently are" in Iraq and Afghanistan while at the same time thanking servicemen and women for their commitments to the national defense.Obama has made Afghanistan, which the United States invaded in October 2001 to hunt for Osama bin Laden, one of his top foreign policy priorities. But his administration is grappling with next steps there as it seeks to disentangle 130,000 American troops from Iraq.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is mapping out a revised war plan that he will send to Obama after elections in Afghanistan slated for this week. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that report will not contain a request to expand the U.S. fighting force, and Gibbs said Obama will not address troop strength or lay out next steps in his speech.
There are 62,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and another 6,000 are headed there by the end of the year.
Gibbs said he also expects the president to discuss his defense budget and decisions such as "whether or not we're going to fund expensive weapons programs the Pentagon says we don't need, or give our men and women fighting in those two dangerous places in the world and other places the resources they need."
Gates wants to change the way the Defense Department does business. He's trying to kill unnecessary or financially troubled weapons systems that siphon money away from the troops and gear needed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Over the objections of some lawmakers who fear their states will lose jobs, the Pentagon chief wants to end production of the high-priced F-22 jet fighter and an aircraft engine project, expensive projects that he says the military doesn't need.
Obama's speech comes at the end of a four-day, four-state trip to the West that was part family vacation, part presidential business. He held a pair of town hall events to promote his plan to overhaul the nation's health care, and his family visited Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks.
This program aired on August 17, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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