US still has business to do in Afghanistan, says Obama

Updated October 04, 2015

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President Barack Obama smiles during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. — AP/file
President Barack Obama smiles during a news conference in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. — AP/file

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that even after 14 years of military engagement, the world’s sole superpower still has unfinished business in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama told a White House news briefing on Friday evening that he would first like to arrange for a political transition before making any new military commitment.

“As we saw this week in Afghanistan … we’ve still got 10,000 folks in Afghanistan. We’re still spending billions of dollars supporting that government, and it’s still tough,” he noted. “We still have business to do in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban extremists seized a key city – Kunduz – and three districts in northern Afghanistan earlier this week, forcing the United States to provide military support to its Afghan allies who were struggling to retake the fallen areas.

Also read: Some Taliban still holding out in Kunduz

On Thursday, the Taliban claimed to have brought down a US military plane, killing six US service members and 5 civilian contractors.

President Obama ended the US-led military mission in Afghanistan in December last year but kept about 10,000 troops to support and train Afghan security forces. Diplomatic observers in Washington say that this week’s events may force the United States to reconsider its plans for a complete withdrawal of troops by 2016.

Responding to a question about future US military missions in Syria, President Obama warned that a military engagement was “a hugely, difficult, complex problem.”

He said he had hoped that the US would have learned lesson in Afghanistan and Iraq where the Americans had “devoted enormous time, effort and resources with the very best people.”

The US efforts, he said, and had given the Afghan people and the Iraqi people an opportunity for democracy but the two military engagements did not produce the results the policy makers in Washington had hoped.

“And that’s not by virtue of a lack of effort on our part, or a lack of commitment,” Mr Obama added.

“So when I make a decision about the level of military involvement that we’re prepared to engage in, in Syria, I have to make a judgment based on, once we start something we’ve got to finish it, and we’ve got to do it well,” he said.

Mr Obama said that before making yet another military commitment, he would ask his advisers: “Do we, in fact, have the resources and the capacity to make a serious impact?”

US policy makers, he said, also have to consider the fact that they still have to go after ISIL in Iraq; support the training of an Iraqi military and had finished business in Afghanistan.

The Iraqi army, he conceded, was “weaker than any of us perceived.”

“And so I push — and have consistently over the last four, five years sought out a wide range of opinions about steps that we can take potentially to move Syria in a better direction,” he explained.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2015

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