Afghanistan Mission Critical to Protecting United States, Obama Says
(March 24, 2009)
|WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – President
Barack Obama called his decision to send an additional
17,000 troops to Afghanistan the toughest so far in his
presidency, but said last night the mission there is
critical to protecting the United States and its interests.|
The top priority in Afghanistan is “making sure that
al-Qaida cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests
and our allies,” Obama said during an interview on CBS' “60
That requires a multifaceted, highly focused strategy that
he said goes beyond military power. "What we can't do is
think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going
to be able to solve our problems,” he said. “So what we're
looking for is a comprehensive strategy.
“We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan.
We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan,”
he continued. "We may need to bring a more regional
diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more
effectively with our allies.”
In doing so, the president said, the United States “can't
lose sight of what our central mission is: the same mission
that we had when we went in after 9/11.” The United States
“cannot tolerate” allowing extremists the ability to project
violence against U.S. citizens, he said.
Part of the Afghanistan strategy being developed must
include an exit strategy, the president said. “There's got
to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."
“We need to be careful what we're getting ourselves into in
Afghanistan,” Obama said, warning that the United States has
come to be considered an occupying force by many Afghans as
well as Pakistanis. “I'm very mindful of that, and so is my
national security team. So is the Pentagon,” he said.
“Afghanistan is not going to be easy in many ways,” he said.
“And this is not my assessment. This is the assessment of
commanders on the ground.”
The Iraq war was easier than what the coalition is facing in
Afghanistan, Obama said. Iraq's terrain is less daunting,
its population more educated, and its infrastructure more
developed. In addition, “Afghanistan has proven to be very
hard to govern” historically, he continued, and contends
with destabilizing issues on its border with Pakistan.
“And so this is going to be a tough nut to crack,” he said.
“But it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let
safe havens of terrorists plan and plot."
Obama called sending more troops to Afghanistan “the right
thing to do,” but conceded that it was a “weighty decision”
because he made it while the strategic review of Afghanistan
operations is still under way.
“When I make a decision to send 17,000 young Americans to
Afghanistan, you can understand that intellectually,” he
said. “But understanding what that means for those families,
for those young people when you end up sitting at your desk,
signing a condolence letter to one of the family members of
a fallen hero, you're reminded each and every day at every
moment that the decisions you make count.”
Turning the conversation to his plans to close the detention
facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama said the United
States has to come up with a better alternative to deal with
“I think we're going to have to figure out a mechanism to
make sure that they not be released and do us harm -- but do
so in a way that is consistent with both our traditions,
sense of due process international law,” he said
American Forces Press Service
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