Obama Says Taliban Pushed Back, But Still 'Long Way To Go'
July 12, 2009
During his visit to Ghana on July 11, U.S. President Barack Obama said U.S. and allied troops have succeeded in pushing back Taliban fighters in a major offensive in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.
In an interview with Britain's Sky News television, however, Obama said there is still "a long way to go" to stabilize the Afghanistan, and that the immediate target is to steer the country through presidential elections scheduled for August 20.
Obama said the United States and its allies will evaluate the situation after the election, and launch a new push to train Afghanistan's army and police forces.
He said new strategies for building bridges with Afghan society would also be considered. "It may not be on the military side, it might be on the development side, providing Afghan farmers alternatives to poppy crops, making sure that we are effectively training a judiciary system, and a rule of law in Afghanistan that people trust," Obama said.
Thousands of U.S. and British troops are fighting in the southern province of Helmand in a major offensive intended to disrupt Taliban insurgents and cut their supply lines to Pakistan ahead of the vote.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul on July 12, Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zmarai Bashari said the death toll among Taliban fighters has risen over the past week.
"One hundred seventy-two armed enemies of the government have been killed in operations over the past week,” Bashari said. “Twenty-seven were injured and 30 enemies of peace have been captured. They are now being investigated by governmental bodies. The number of casualties of armed enemies of the government increased by 37 percent compared to the previous week."
Britain 'On The Right Track'
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended Britain's military strategy in Afghanistan, saying it's on the right track despite a rise in casualties.
In a letter to a parliamentary committee, Brown said British commanders in Afghanistan believe they are winning the battle against Taliban militants in their strongholds in southern Afghanistan.
Brown insisted that the British military deployment there is aimed at preventing terrorism in Britain.
Brown's comments came after the deaths of 15 soldiers in Afghanistan in the past 10 days, bringing the number of British fatalities in Afghanistan to 184 – compared to the 179 Britons killed in the Iraq war.
Obama praised British troops for their "extraordinary role" in Afghanistan and told Sky News that the fighting there is a vital element in the battle against terrorism.
"The mission in Afghanistan is one that the Europeans have as much, if not more, of a stake in than we do," Obama said.
The United States has said it will send up to 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan this year. They will join 33,000 U.S. and 32,000 other NATO troops already in the country.
Obama also dismissed the U.S. commander in the country, General David McKiernan, in May, less than a year into his command. McKiernan was replaced by General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded special forces operations in Iraq.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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