Obama, Cameron on Afghanistan: 'We Will Not Give Up on This Mission'

By Fred Lucas | March 14, 2012 | 4:27 PM EDT

President Barack Obama listens as British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Wednesday, March 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) – Despite mounting problems, the leaders of the U.S. and Great Britain vowed Wednesday to stay the course through 2014.

“We will not give up on this mission because Afghanistan must never again be safe haven for Al Qaeda to launch attacks against us,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a joint White House press conference with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden.

“We won’t build a perfect Afghanistan. Let’s be clear, we are making some tangible progress. With more markets open, more health centers working, more children going to school, more people able to receive a basic standard of living and security,” Cameron added.

Both leaders talked about transitioning from a combat role to a support role by 2013, then handing over control of the country entirely to the Afghan government for security by 2014.

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Under tough questions about the problems in Afghanistan, later during the press conference, Obama said that the longevity of the war has made it unpopular, but reminded reporters it was a response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

“You ask, why is it that poll numbers indicate people are interested in ending the war in Afghanistan? 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,” Obama said.

He added, “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. There is a reason why Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants are not in a position to be able to execute plots against the United States or Great Britain.

“There’s a reason why it is increasingly difficult for those who are interested in carrying out transnational operations directed against our interests, our friends, our allies, to be able to do that,” Obama said.

Over the weekend, a U.S. soldier killed 16 Afghanistan villagers, nine of them children, causing uproar in an already volatile area. The incident came after Afghanis killed several U.S. soldiers in response to the accidental burning of Korans.

Cameron stressed the progress.

“If you would compare where we are today with where we’ve been two, three years ago, the situation has considerably improved,” Cameron said. “I think the U.S. surge and the additional UK troops we have put in, particularly in Helmand Province had a transformative effect. The level of insurgent attacks are right down. The level of security is right up. The capital of Helmand province, Lashkar Gah, is now fully transitioned over to Afghan-lead control.”

Also on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, where there was reportedly an attempted attack.

“We will not allow individual incidents to undermine our resolve to that mission,” he told about 200 Marines at Camp Leatherneck. “We will be tested. We will be challenged. We’ll be challenged by our enemy. We’ll be challenged by ourselves. We'll be challenged by the hell of war itself. But none of that, none of that, must ever deter us from the mission that we must achieve.”

The Associated Press reported that an Afghan stole a vehicle at a British airfield in southern Afghanistan and drove it onto a runway, crashing into a ditch about the same time that Leon Panetta's aircraft was landing. He said the pickup truck drove at high speed onto the ramp where Panetta's plane was intended to stop. No one in Panetta's party was injured.