US President Barack Obama said in a televison interview on Friday that the US had no long-term aspirations in Afghanistan. His comments came hours after he set an August 2010 pull out date for US combat operations in Iraq.
REUTERS - President Barack Obama promised Friday that the United States has no long-term designs on Afghanistan as his administration switches focus to the war-torn country with its pullout from Iraq.
Obama, who on Friday announced an 18-month timeline to end combat operations in Iraq, is planning to send another 1,700 US troops to Afghanistan as part of a fresh push to fight Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.
The new US president made clear he was well-aware of the sentiments of the Afghan people, who have fiercely resisted foreign invaders from the British to the Soviets.
"One of the things that I think we have to communicate in Afghanistan is that we have no interest or aspiration to be there over the long term," Obama said in an interview with PBS public television.
"There's a long history, as you know, in Afghanistan of rebuffing what is seen as an occupying force and we have to be mindful of that history as we think about our strategy," he said.
The Obama administration is conducting a review of its "war on terror" strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan and this week held three-way talks in Washington with foreign ministers of the South Asian neighbors.
Obama, who opposed his predecessor George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, defended the US involvement in Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda extremists who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks were holed up.
"Our bottom goal in the region is to keep the American people safe," Obama said.
But he declined to set a timeline on when US troops would exit Afghanistan.
"Until we have a clear strategy, we're not going to have a clear exit strategy," he said.
"My goal is to get US troops home as quickly as possible without leaving a situation that allows for potential terrorist attacks against the United States," Obama said.
Some critics within Obama's Democratic Party have questioned the extra deployment to Afghanistan, fearing that the United States would get bogged down in an escalating conflict similar to Vietnam.
On the other hand Senator John McCain, Obama's rival for the presidency last year, has called for an overhaul of Afghan policy that includes doubling the size of the Afghan army and bolstering Pakistan's new civilian govrenment.
"When you aren't winning in this kind of war, you are losing. And, in Afghanistan today, we are not winning," McCain warned on Wednesday.
Afghan ministers visiting Washington for the talks took exception to criticism, vowing that they would defeat the Taliban and in time no longer need foreign forces.
"There should be no doubt about the Afghan determination to succeed because it is a question of our national survival," Defense Minister Mohammad Rahim Wardak told a think tank.
Offering a rare estimate of the enemy strength, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said that 10,000 to 15,000 Taliban were fighting in Afghanistan and said they were active in up to 17 of the 34 provinces.
Atmar said that most were foreigners linked to Al-Qaeda or Central Asian extremist groups.
The Taliban have carried out a recent wave of attacks in Afghanistan, including simultaneous strikes on February 11 on three government offices in Kabul that left 26 people dead as well as eight of the attackers.
"These terrorist attacks do not represent their strength but indeed their weakness," Atmar told reporters.
"The fact that they don't care about their image is a significant indication of their hopelessness," he said.
"They are still capable of threatening the lives of the Afghan people but that does not mean that they can derail the (reconstruction) process or challenge the government of Afghanistan," he said.
Date created : 2009-02-28