Obama says U.S. is 'on track' to achieve goals in Afghanistan

Declaring significant progress in disrupting al-Qaeda and combatting the Taliban, President Barack Obama said Thursday the United States will start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July as promised.
By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 10:00 PM

President Obama said Thursday that "we are on track to achieve our goals" in the Afghan war and to "start reducing our forces next July."

Announcing the results of a one-year review of his war strategy, Obama said, "This continues to be a difficult endeavor." In many places, he said, "the gains we've made are fragile and reversible."

Obama made particular reference to an "urgent need for political and economic progress in Afghanistan" to match what he described as significant military success in offensives to clear Taliban strongholds in the southern part of the country.

In Pakistan, Obama said, "progress has not come fast enough" in eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries near the Afghanistan border. "We continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist havens inside their borders must be dealt with," he said.

Overall, Obama said, there has been "significant progress" in the goal of "disrupting, dismantling and defeating" al-Qaeda - an objective he set when he announced expanded military and civilian deployments.

"Today, al-Qaeda's senior leadership in the border region is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan" in 2001, he said.

A written White House review of the strategy concluded that it is "showing progress" against al-Qaeda and in Afghanistan and Pakistan but that "the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable," according to a summary document released early Thursday.

Taliban momentum has been "arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible," the five-page summary said.

The review, it said, indicated that the administration was "setting conditions" to begin the "responsible reduction" of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in July.

The overview of the long-awaited report contained no specifics or data to back up its conclusions. The actual assessment document is classified and will not be made public, according to an administration official who said that interested members of Congress would be briefed on it in January

Obama appeared before reporters Thursday to announce the results of the review, which was compiled from reports submitted by military, diplomatic and intelligence officials since mid-October. Flanking him at the White House briefing were Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Last December, Obama ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops in a buildup designed to stop insurgent momentum in Afghanistan and ultimately reverse it, particularly in the Taliban heartland in the southern part of the country. Based on conditions on the ground, Obama said, he would begin to reduce the size of the U.S. force, which now numbers about 100,000, after 18 months, or in July 2011.

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