- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

With British Prime Minister David Cameron at his side, President Obama pledged Wednesday not to hasten the end of the joint military mission in Afghanistan before a scheduled “responsible” turnover to Afghan forces in 2014.

“I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Mr. Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference after emerging from Oval Office talks with Mr. Cameron. “There will be a robust coalition presence inside of Afghanistan during this fighting season to make sure that the Taliban understand that they’re not going to be able to regain momentum.”

Both leaders are under pressure from war-weary publics to end the military mission. That clamor has increased in recent weeks as the United Kingdom suffered its single greatest loss of soldiers since 2006, as six troops were killed in a roadside bomb. Also, Afghans have killed Americans soldiers over the inadvertent burnings of Korans by U.S. personnel and have protested the massacre of civilians, allegedly by a U.S. Army sergeant.

Asked by a British reporter about the unpopularity of the war, Mr. Obama replied: “It’s because we’ve been there for 10 years, and people get weary. And they know friends and neighbors who have lost loved ones as a consequence of war.”

“No one wants war,” Mr. Obama said. “Anybody who answers a poll question about war saying enthusiastically, ‘We want war,’ probably hasn’t been involved in a war. But … I think the vast majority of the American people and British understand why we went there. There is a reason why al Qaeda is on its heels and has been decimated.”

Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, second only to the U.S., and has lost more than 400 soldiers. Mr. Cameron spoke of “the high cost of this war” at the Rose Garden press conference.

“But we will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks against us,” Mr. Cameron said. “We won’t build a perfect Afghanistan. … But we can help ensure that Afghanistan is capable of delivering its own security without the need for large numbers of foreign troops.”

The talks between the two leaders came in advance of a NATO summit scheduled for Chicago in May, where the focus likely will be the mission in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron emphasized that they will push to keep to a planned transition to Afghan forces to take primary responsibility for security in the country by the middle of next year.

The state visit by Mr. Cameron and his wife, Samantha, kicked off Wednesday morning with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.

Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will host a formal dinner at the White House on Wednesday night in honor of the Camerons.

The Obamas presented the Camerons with the gift of a wood- and charcoal-burning grill engraved with American and British friendship flags. It comes with his-and-her White House chef jackets embroidered with the Camerons’ names.

The White House said the gifts commemorate the Obamas’ May 2011 visit to London, when the couples held a cookout for American and British members of the military.

The two leaders also discussed job growth. Mr. Cameron, aware that Mr. Obama increasingly is turning his focus to the Asian Pacific, also expressed his desire to maintain a robust economic partnership with the U.S.

“American investment in the U.K. is eight times larger than China, and U.K. investment in America is nearly 140 times that of China,” Mr. Cameron said.

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