WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that America still had a `difficult task ahead’ in Afghanistan and would continue to stay engaged with that country even after most of its combat troops left in 2014.
Mr Obama devoted the last two days, Friday and Saturday, speaking about the war in Afghanistan as his Republican rival Mitt Romney faced a barrage of criticism for not mentioning the Afghan war in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.
Television commentators and newspaper writers from both conservative and liberal camps reminded the Republican presidential candidate that more than 2,000 Americans had died in Afghanistan and almost 90,000 US troops were still there.
They argued that developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan would also impact America’s security and therefore it was not right to ignore such an important subject.
Determined not to repeat Mr Romney’s mistake, President Obama on Friday visited US troops at Fort Bliss, Texas, some of whom had served in Afghanistan while some were going there later this year.
On Saturday, he chose to highlight the Afghan issue in his weekly radio address, telling Americans that “there is still difficult work ahead of us in Afghanistan”.
The US and allied forces, he said, had “broken the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and begun the transition to an Afghan lead” but that was not the end of America’s engagement with Afghanistan.
Mr Obama noted that next month the last group of troops he ordered as part of the 2009 surge against the Taliban would be returning home.
The US and Nato forces, he added, were well poised to meet the 2014 deadline for handing over military command to Afghans.
During his visit to Fort Bliss, Mr Obama met soldiers both returning from and departing to Afghanistan and told them that now was the time to strengthen America.
“Part of honouring their service means strengthening the nation they fought so hard to protect. As we turn the page on a decade of war, it’s time to do some nation-building here at home,” he said.
At Fort Bliss, Mr Obama also signed an executive order expanding suicide prevention and mental health efforts in the military.
“Some of you will be deploying later this year. And I’ve got to tell you the truth – this is still a very tough fight,” he said. “We pushed the Taliban back. We’re training Afghan forces. The transition to Afghan lead is under way, and as promised, more than 30,000 of our troops will have come home by next month.”
Mr Obama said that just as he did in Iraq, “we are going to end this war responsibly”.
He said that “even as this war ends, we will stay vigilant so Afghanistan is never again a source for attacks against America, never again”.
The United States, he said, was not just ending these wars, “we’re doing it in a way that keeps America safe and makes America stronger. And that includes our military”.