Obama: Signs of Progress in Afghanistan But ‘Hard Fighting’ Remains
Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday to talk about the challenges their two countries face in battling al Qaeda and the Taliban, and in smoothing over the rift between the two leaders in the aftermath of the Afghan elections.
There reportedly was widespread fraud in the fall 2009 elections in Afghanistan, which raised questions about Karzai’s legitimacy as president. In April 2010, Karzai said there was “huge fraud” but that it was perpetuated “by the foreigners” of the United Nations, the European Union and certain unnamed embassies in Kabul.
After Karzai’s remarks on April 1, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had said the comments were “troubling” and that the Obama administration was “seeking clarification from President Karzai.”
Nonetheless, on Wednesday, May 12, Karzai and Obama met in the Oval Office before holding a joint news conference. They took two questions from U.S. reporters and two questions from the Afghan press. Later, Obama and Karzai spoke over lunch in the Cabinet room.
More than one-third, 37 percent, of all U.S. deaths in the nearly nine-year war have occurred since Obama took office, according to an analysis of casualty data from the Department of Defense by CNSNews.com.
This year alone, more than 100 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan.
“What I've tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months,” Obama said during the joint press conference with Karzai.
Obama also said that the United States was still on schedule to start reducing the number of troops in Afghanistan in July 2011. He explained that this would not be a U.S. withdrawal and that the partnership with Afghanistan would be ongoing.
“There is no denying the progress – nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan,” Obama said.
Karzai, meanwhile, explained his motives in reaching out to certain members of the Taliban, the radical Islamist group that ran Afghanistan from 1996 through 2001.
Karzai said of the Sunni-led Taliban: “There are thousands of them who are country boys who've been driven by intimidation or fear. It is these thousands of Taliban who are not against Afghanistan or against the Afghan people or their country, who are not against America either, or the rest of the world and who want to come back to Afghanistan if given an opportunity and provided the political means.”
Obama agreed with Karzai but stressed that the situation was acceptable only if the Taliban members worked with the government and renounced all “ties to extremist networks.”
Obama also said that the reports about a political division between the United States and the Karzai-led Afghan government were “overstated.”
“Obviously, there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment, and in a situation in which, on the ground, both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices,” said President Obama.
Karzai noted that the two countries are “much more related today than before.”
“There are moments when we speak frankly to each other, and that frankness will only contribute to the strength of the relationship,” Karzai said.
The two leaders agreed that the United States must make a long-term commitment to help train and equip Afghan national security and law enforcement forces to transition control of the country to the Afghanis as the United States gradually draws down more of its troops.
At the press conference, Obama and Karzai also talked about the need for expanding economic opportunities for Afghanistan, which has seen little more than war and poverty for the last three decades.
Also, both leaders agreed that countering corruption and strengthening the election process in Afghanistan was vital to progress in the country. The United States has pledged technical and financial assistance for Karzai’s Major Crimes Task Force and the High Office of Oversight, which will battle corruption, according to a White House news release.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will head a U.S. delegation to the Kabul Conference to be hosted by the Afghan government on July 20 to work with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.