Video: Obama: No deadline on Afghanistan

  1. Transcript of: Obama: No deadline on Afghanistan

    MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about another important issue facing you and your administration, and that is Afghanistan .

    PRES. OBAMA: Yeah.

    MR. GREGORY: We've now been in Afghanistan for eight years. The Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan after 10 years.

    PRES. OBAMA: Right.

    MR. GREGORY: Are we committed to this war for an indefinite period of time, or do you think in your mind is there a deadline for withdrawal?

    PRES. OBAMA: I don't have a deadline for withdrawal, but I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries. Keep in mind what happened when I came in. We had been adrift, I think, when it came to our Afghanistan strategy. And what I said was that we are going to do a top to bottom review of what's taking place there. Not just a one-time review, but we're going to do a review before the election in Afghanistan and then we're going to do another review after the election. And we are going to see how this is fitting what I think is our core goal, which is to go after the folks who killed 3,000 Americans during 9/11 and who are still plotting to kill us: al-Qaeda . How do we dismantle them, disrupt them, destroy them? Now, getting our strategy right in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are both important elements of that. But that's our goal, and I want to stay focused on that. And, and so right now what's happened is, is that we've had an election in Afghanistan . It did not go as smoothly as I think we would have hoped, and that there are some serious issues in terms of how that -- how the election was conducted in some parts of the country. But we've had that election. We now finally have the 21,000 troops in place that I had already ordered to go.

    MR. GREGORY: Are you skeptical about more troops, about sending more troops?

    PRES. OBAMA: Well, can I just say this? I am -- I have to exercise skepticism any time I send a single young man or woman in uniform into harm's way, because I'm the one who's answerable to their parents if they don't come home. So I have to ask some very hard questions any time I send our troops in.

    The question that I'm asking right now is to our military, to General McChrystal , to General Petraeus , to all our national security apparatus is, whether it's troops who are already there or any troop request in the future, how does this advance America 's national security interests? How does it make sure that al-Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States ' homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe ? That's the question that I'm constantly asking, because that's the primary threat that we went there to deal with. And if, if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward. But if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for, for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources. What I'm not also going to do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there beyond what we already have.

updated 9/20/2009 12:15:50 PM ET 2009-09-20T16:15:50

A successful army offensive, a shift in public opinion against the militants and the killing of top Taliban leaders have given grounds for cautious optimism in Pakistan as progress across the border in Afghanistan appears stalled amid spiraling violence and postelection turmoil.

The Obama administration has made it clear it sees victory in the fight against Islamist extremism as dependent on successes in both South Asian nations. Forging a common strategy for "AfPak," as the region is now dubbed in Washington, is a key priority.

Five months ago, nuclear-armed Pakistan was seen by some as on the verge of collapse, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the country was "abdicating" to the Taliban as the movement spread from its stronghold close to the Afghan border to the northwest Swat Valley and beyond.

To the relief of the West, the army moved forcefully against the Swat militants in April in a campaign that thrived with public support. Last month, the head of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a U.S. missile strike, and questions remain whether its new leader will be able to maintain the group's ability to launch large-scale terrorist attacks.

Victory not in sight
Still, no one is saying overall victory is in sight. In particular, the tribal region of Waziristan remains an al-Qaida and Taliban haven despite past army efforts to clear it. On Friday, a suicide bomber plowed his explosives-laden vehicle into a hotel in the northwestern town of Kohat, killing more than 30 and wounding dozens of others.

"Clearly there are victories but there are still a lot of Taliban and there are still a lot of battles to come," said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East and South Asia director for U.S.-based global intelligence company Stratfor. "But for now the government still has the upper hand."

The signs of progress come as Pakistani leader Asif Ali Zardari prepares for talks on Thursday with President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in New York on how international donors can best support the country's democratically elected government.

Ishtiaq Ahmad, professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said the public opinion shift against the Taliban combined with the political consensus on tackling the threat were "major factors for visible improvement in security" in the country.

Near-daily violence elsewhere
Deadly attacks on major urban centers like the massive truck bombing on the Marriott hotel in Islamabad a year ago and the commando-style assault against the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March have decreased since the Swat Valley offensive, though near-daily violence has continued elsewhere.

Bokhari says the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has been left in disarray after the clearing of insurgents from the valley and surrounding areas in July, as well as the Aug. 5 killing of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike.

Further successes include the reported deaths of the al-Qaida operations chief in Pakistan and a top Uzbek militant in U.S. drone strikes in the northwest earlier this month, and the killing of 10 Taliban fighters attempting to infiltrate Swat's main city Mingora on Thursday.

Improved intelligence-sharing and coordination among Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan have aided the effort, Bokhari said.

While the Pakistani military has at least temporarily gained the upper hand, the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan has deteriorated with increased roadside bombings, suicide attacks and ambushes. Heightened counterinsurgency efforts by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government have so far failed to make much headway there, analysts said.

Bokhari said while "the Pakistanis have gotten their act together," efforts in Afghanistan by the U.S., NATO and the Afghan government appear "to be in disarray."

Turmoil after Afghan election
Political turmoil in Afghanistan after the Aug. 20 presidential election amid allegations of vote-fraud is also clouding perceptions of the future there. While the government in Pakistan is unpopular, the political scene has been relatively stable since Zardari became president a year ago, allowing it to concentrate on counterinsurgency operations.

Imtiaz Gul, chairman of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine last week "it's time for cautious optimism" for Pakistan, noting the interception of dozens of suicide bombers in the northwest and a drop in attacks elsewhere.

Bokhari said the uncertainty in strategy and cold feet among allies in Afghanistan has emboldened the Taliban there, and it remains unclear if the raging insurgency can be put down even with the deployment of more U.S. forces, which is now being considered in Washington.

"Even if you have all the troops you need, is it still a battle that can be won? Ultimately history has shown that Afghanistan — because of its geography and demography — is not something you can impose a military solution on," Bokhari said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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