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Military families have mixed feelings on Afghanistan surge strategy outlined in Obama speech

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Battle-weary U.S. troops and their families braced for a wrenching round of new deployments to Afghanistan announced Tuesday by the president, but many said they support the surge as long as it helps to end the eight-year-old conflict.

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Battle-weary U.S. troops and their families braced for a wrenching round of new deployments to Afghanistan announced Tuesday by the president, but many said they support the surge as long as it helps to end the eight-year-old conflict.

As President Barack Obama outlined his plan to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan - while pledging to start bringing them home in 2011 - soldiers, Marines and their families interviewed by The Associated Press felt a tangle of fresh concerns and renewed hopes.

"All I ask that man to do, if he is going to send them over there, is not send them over in vain," said 57-year-old Bill Thomas of Jacksonville, North Carolina, who watched Obama's televised speech in his living room, where photos of his three sons in uniform hang over the TV.

One of his sons, 23-year-old Cpl. Michael Thomas, is a Marine based at neighbouring Camp Lejeune. He'll deploy next year to Afghanistan. Another son is in the Navy, and a third recently left the Marines after serving in Iraq.

An ex-Marine himself, Thomas said he supports Obama's new strategy, but wishes the president had moved more quickly.

"It is too late," Thomas said. "They should have already been gone."

Military officials say the Army brigades most likely to be sent as part of the surge will come from Fort Drum in New York and Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Marines, who will be the vanguard, will most likely come primarily from Camp Lejeune.

Obama's plan calls for deploying 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the next six months, boosting total U.S. forces there to about 100,000. The first waves of Marines are expected to arrive by Christmas, with the rest coming by summer.

The president also began outlining an endgame to the war, saying troops would begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July 2011 - though he did not set a timetable for a complete withdrawal.

Army Pfc. Jeff Williams, an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, said he's "more than ready" to go. He said his unit had trained for Iraq, but the deployment was recently called off. The 23-year-old soldier said he'd like to join the fight in Afghanistan, though his parents might have misgivings.

"I'm sure they'd hate it, but that's why I got in - to fight the fight," Williams said. "The surge worked in Iraq. If we had a surge in Afghanistan, I'm sure it would work too."

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Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Ted Shaffrey at Fort Drum, New York; and Kristin Hall in Clarksville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.

 
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