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Obama: No Snap Decisions on Afghanistan

By Michael Bowman
20 September 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama says he has no deadline for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, but will not further expand U.S. military operations without a strategy for success in the country. Opposition Republican lawmakers accuse the president of wavering on his commitment to the fight in Afghanistan, which he previously characterized as a war of necessity that the United States must win.

Appearing on five television networks Sunday, President Obama was repeatedly asked if America's open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan since late 2001 will continue. This was his response on NBC's Meet the Press program.

"I do not have a deadline for withdrawal, but I am certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries," said President Obama.

The president said America's Afghanistan strategy has been, as he put it, "adrift" in recent years, allowing the Taliban to regroup and return to the battlefield. Since coming to office, Mr. Obama has boosted U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan by 21,000 and ordered a comprehensive review of military strategy in the country.

Before considering further troop increases, the president said he wants to be certain that the United States has an effective strategy to eradicate al-Qaida and prevent terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies.

"That is the question I am constantly asking, because that is the primary threat we went there [to Afghanistan] to deal with," said Mr. Obama. "And if supporting the Afghan national government and building capacity for their army securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we will move forward. But if it does not, then I am not interested in being in Afghanistan just for the sake of being in Afghanistan."

When it comes to securing funding for continued U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, the president may find more enthusiasm among Republican legislators than left-leaning members of his own Democratic Party. But some Republican leaders say they detect a troubling shift in Mr. Obama's rhetoric away from a steadfast commitment to victory in Afghanistan.

House Minority Leader John Boehner also appeared on Meet the Press.

"The president is changing the goals here," said John Boehner. "All he is talking about is going after al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What happened to the statement earlier this year where the president said we cannot allow the Taliban and al-Qaida to have a safe haven from which to train, operate, and organize to go after Americans?"

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has reportedly completed a detailed request for further troops and resources, but has yet to send it to Washington. Attacks against Western troops in Afghanistan have escalated sharply in recent years.

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