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Obama reaffirms 2011 Afghanistan withdrawal

President Barack Obama reaffirmed his plans to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011 in an interview with Australian television.
/ Source: news services

President Barack Obama reaffirmed on Thursday his plans to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

Speaking in an interview with Australian television broadcast Thursday, Obama said of Afghanistan that United States and its allies "can't be there in perpetuity."

Obama told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he did not agree that the situation in Afghanistan was getting worse, saying the Taliban's momentum had been "blunted" since he came to office.

But winning the nearly nine-year-old war remained a difficult task, he said.

The interview comes ahead of a planned trip by Obama to Australia and Indonesia in June.

He also said he was confident Afghan President Hamid Karzai can stabilize his war-torn nation but that Washington would continue to press him to introduce essential reforms to improve living standards.

Obama's comments seek to end a war of words between Kabul and Washington that have tested ties in recent weeks.

"I think that President Karzai is capable of leading his country into the 21st century and stabilizing it," Obama told 'The 7.30 Report' program.

"But what we have said is that we can't succeed unless President Karzai moves forward on the reforms that are so necessary for Afghans to see a real investment in their lives day-to-day and improvement in their lives day-to-day."

Obama said the United States was not in Afghanistan to support one man, but to secure U.S. national security.

Spat with Karzai
Karzai sparked a spat with Washington recently by accusing Western countries and officials of perpetrating election fraud in Afghanistan, in comments the White House called "disturbing" and untrue, and the State Department called "preposterous."

Karzai also said there was a fine line between cooperation and occupation, and that Afghans had to see that their government was not made up of "puppets."

Tensions between Karzai and the West come at a particularly awkward time, when the U.S.-led force is planning the biggest operation of the war to regain full control of the southern city of Kandahar, Karzai's home town and heartland of the Taliban.

"I do think is he's a proud man, I think he has a strong sense of Afghan nationalism, and he's under a very difficult circumstance," Obama said.

"I think that you've seen actually some reforms in the Karzai government that allow us to then actually get civilian help to ordinary Afghans and that then builds trust in the government.

"I think we've got some positive trends but there is no doubt that this is a difficult task. We need to begin drawing down our troops in 2011, and start handing over more and more responsibility to the Afghans."