This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
American forces in Afghanistan have launched their first offensive since President Obama announced more troops for the war. On Friday, military officials said more than one thousand NATO troops, mostly Americans, launched the operation with Afghan forces. Troops moved in to clear Taliban insurgents and explosives from the Now Zad valley in the southern province of Helmand.
On Tuesday President Obama told Americans that thirty thousand more troops will go to Afghanistan as fast as possible. And he announced that after eighteen months, in July of two thousand eleven, "our troops will begin to come home."
He called Afghanistan and Pakistan the "epicenter" of violent extremism by al-Qaida. He said the terrorist group that attacked the United States eight years ago is plotting new attacks. And he warned, "This is not just America's war."
He said the people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. The risks are even higher, he said, within a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The thirty thousand will bring the number of American troops in Afghanistan to about one hundred thousand. Almost forty thousand other foreign troops are also there under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
On Friday, NATO announced that at least twenty-five countries will send about seven thousand additional forces next year. American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an appeal to NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium.
President Obama spent three months considering his decision. He said one of the goals is to train Afghan security forces to take responsibility for their own security. Setting a date to begin removing troops is meant to put pressure on the government of President Hamid Karzai to take responsibility.
BARACK OBAMA: "We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
Public opinion surveys show that the war has grown increasingly unpopular with Americans. In Congress, the troop increase is unpopular with some liberal Democrats. Cost is one concern. The president estimated the cost of the new plan at about thirty billion dollars this year. Some in his party argue that the money should go instead to economic recovery.
Republicans in Congress who support the troop increase criticized the president for setting a date to start a pullout. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said July of two thousand eleven "will be the beginning of a process" that will depend on conditions in Afghanistan.
For many Americans, finding a job and getting health care are the top concerns -- as the president recognized in his speech.
BARACK OBAMA: "This is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended, because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own."
On Friday, the Labor Department in Washington said the unemployment rate decreased by two-tenths of one percent in November to ten percent. The monthly report said the nation lost eleven thousand jobs -- far fewer than expected. It was the best report since two thousand seven.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.