WASHINGTON, Nov 6: Former US secretary of state Colin Powell warned on Thursday that the Afghan war would be the second biggest challenge for President-elect Barack Obama after his inauguration on Jan 20.

The first challenge, of course, would be dealing with the economic crisis, said Mr Powell in interviews to various US news outlets. But Mr Obama would also need to pay “a lot of time and attention” to the war in Afghanistan, he added.

The war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas is also on top of the agenda of CIA Chief Mike Hayden when he meets Mr Obama this weekend.

Mr Hayden said earlier on Thursday that his organisation would start briefing Mr Obama on top-secret intelligence and “the full range of capabilities we deploy for the United States”.

During the election campaign, Mr Obama promised to increase US troops in Afghanistan and to provide American and allied troops whatever they needed to defeat the Taliban.

He also pledged to attack suspected terrorist targets inside Pakistan’s tribal belt if US intelligence agencies had solid information about the presence of a senior Al Qaeda or Taliban leader at a particular place and if Pakistanis were unable or unwilling to go for him.

Gen Powell endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign two weeks ago, citing Mr Obama’s “ability to inspire.”

Reports in the US media claimed that Mr Obama might offer a cabinet job to Mr Powell who told reporters on Wednesday he was not interested in a job but would always be available to give advice to the new president.

He hailed the “historic” election of Mr Obama as the first African-American president of the United States, saying the country’s new leader will be “a president for all Americans”.

Gen Powell — the first African-American to head the joint chiefs of staff and to be appointed secretary of state — is credited with breaking down many race barriers and was clearly emotional when asked what it meant for Americans to have elected a black president.

“In 50 years, I’ve seen my country move so dramatically to the dream our founding fathers had,” he said. “Now we’ve reached the stage where we can elect a president who is fully gifted but is also black.”

Gen Powell, who was secretary of state under George Bush between 2001 and 2005 and was once seen as a possible US presidential candidate himself, praised Mr Obama’s “inclusive” campaign that he said reached across racial and generational divides.

“Because what he did in this campaign was to be all-inclusive, to reach out across racial lines, cultural lines, religious lines, you name it. He wanted to be a transformational figure, to bridge the gap between generations. And I think that’s what allowed him to win this election,” Mr Powell told CNN.

“So I’m very, very proud to have a new American president, who also happens to be an African-American.”