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 11:57:00 AM ET 2009-09-20T15:57:00

President Barack Obama says he has no deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan and is pledging there will not be an indefinite American occupation. Sounding much like his predecessor, Obama said he won't base any war decision on "the politics of the moment."

The 8-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, overshadowed by the war in Iraq during much of George W. Bush's presidency, is a dominant challenge for Obama. The American public and leaders of his own party have eroding faith in the face of a resurgent Taliban, doubts of Afghan leadership and rising U.S. engagement.

"I don't have a deadline for withdrawal," Obama said in one of a series of television interviews broadcast Sunday. "But I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries."

Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the number of U.S. forces there to 68,000, and is expecting to get a request for more troops from the U.S. and NATO commander. Obama said the decision is more than the inclination of "If I get more, then I can do more."

"Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing?" he said. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?

Wants updated reviews
Obama has pledged no imminent decision on sending in more troops and says he wants to see updated reviews on all aspects of his war strategy. His road map to winning the war in Afghanistan relies heavily on clearing al-Qaida terrorists from Pakistan, according to a list of benchmarks given to Congress last week.

Obama said once he hears from advisers and has a better idea on whether more troops are needed, then "what I will say to the American public is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment." Bush often used similar language when overseeing a war in Iraq that had lost support of much of the public.

The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama should follow the military's advice. McConnell said Gen. David Petraeus, who now heads Central Command, "did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he's doing. General McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well."

On a related front, Obama said having a focused war strategy will help with the hunt for the elusive Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks. Bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders are presumed to be hiding in a mountainous region of Pakistan where the U.S.-backed government in Islamabad has little control.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under political fire at home for his disputed re-election. Allegations of large-scale ballot stuffing, phantom polling stations and turnouts above 100 percent in some areas threaten to undermine the credibility of his election just when the U.S. needs his country to take more control.

Obama declined to comment on the validity of Karzai's election "until after everything has been certified," noting that investigations of fraud are under way.

Obama made the comments to NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN's "State of the Union" in interviews taped Friday at the White House.

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


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