Obama: US Remains Committed to Afghanistan as War Winds Down

Posted May 2nd, 2012 at 8:40 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama has marked the one year anniversary of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's death with a quick trip to Afghanistan, signing a strategic pact with Kabul and delivering an election-year message to the American people that the Afghan war is winding down.

In televised remarks broadcast to Americans late Tuesday from Bagram Airbase, Mr. Obama reaffirmed the transition in Afghanistan — with U.S. combat troops completing their withdrawal and Afghans taking full security control of their country by 2014.

The president said the United States will continue to support counterterrorism and training efforts in Afghanistan, but “will not build permanent bases” in the country. Hours earlier, Mr. Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement outlining the U.S. role in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

In his speech Tuesday, President Obama made clear, “our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban,” objectives that would “require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives.” The U.S. leader said the goal is to destroy al-Qaida.

The U.S.-Afghan strategic agreement does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence but pledges American aid for Afghanistan for at least a decade after the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops.

Around 90,000 U.S. troops currently serve in Afghanistan. Some 33,000 American forces will have pulled out of Afghanistan by September of this year, with Afghans in control of

Senior U.S. officials told VOA the pact is part of a larger strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat extremist forces in the region. They said the plan includes transitioning to an Afghan-led security force expected to peak at 352,000 Afghan troops this year.

Another key element of the strategy involves Afghan-led reconciliation with the Taliban, which the officials said can move forward if the group breaks its ties with al-Qaida.

President Obama for the first time publicly acknowledged that his administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban in pursuit of a “negotiated peace.” He said many insurgent leaders and fighters have shown an interest in reconciliation, but that they must cut ties with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and abide by Afghan laws in order to take part in the peace process.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghan war since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and the ousting of the Taliban-led government. The Taliban at the time had refused to handover Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan.

After years evading capture, bin Laden was found to be living in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he was killed one year ago by U.S. special forces in a raid authorized by President Obama.

Scholar Nazif Shahrani of Indiana University-Bloomington tells VOA Mr. Obama has not dealt with Afghanistan's need for honest government. He says instituting political reform in the next two years will make the difference between peace and continued war.