WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring significant progress in disrupting al Qaeda and combatting the Taliban, President Obama said Thursday the United States will start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July as promised. He still warned of sobering days, saying the war would remain a “very difficult endeavor.”
Assessing the war one year after he ordered a major increase in troops, Mr. Obama said the goal is not to defeat every threat to Afghanistan’s security or to build up the nation. Rather, he said, the United States continues to shed blood in the fight — now in its 10th year — to dismantle the al-Qaida network and push back the Taliban.
Yet he added that progress has not come fast enough in neighboring Pakistan, where terrorists continue to find safe haven. And the president warned that the gains over the past year — which have come at the cost of more U.S. troop deaths than at any previous time during the war — are fragile and reversible.
Put together, Mr. Obama’s words and the report’s findings underscore that his war plan is here to stay. The goal is for the U.S.-led coalition of nations to turn over control of Afghan security by the end of 2014, which means that U.S. troops will remain at war there for at least the next four years.
The U.S. and coalition partners went to war in Afghanistan in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, seeking to overturn the Taliban militants who had given haven to al Qaeda, the network that orchestrated the terrorist attacks. Mr. Obama said the U.S. remains at war there to prevent al Qaeda from attacking America or its allies again.
At least 480 American troops have been killed in 2010 in the war, and more than 2,100 have died since the conflict began.
The pace and scope of the U.S. troop withdrawal is unclear. “We don’t know at this point,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters. He said he hoped the pace would accelerate based on local conditions.
A defining issue in the months ahead will be the degree to which the United States can get Pakistan’s cooperation in rooting out the terrorists within its borders. Mr. Obama, who has significantly escalated the scope of the war and always centered that effort on defeating al Qaeda, claimed his most progress to date.
“In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down,” the president said. “It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake. We are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.”
The Afghanistan war has become one of the longest in the country’s history, and public opinion at home has turned against it.
“I understand it,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said of the nation’s displeasure.
But she said that “leaders — and certainly this president — will not make decisions that are matters of life and death, and the future security of our nation, based on polling.”
Mr. Obama broadly described a war effort that, in his view and those of his national security team, is working but has serious challenges ahead.View Entire Story
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