Washington: The Obama administration is sticking determinedly to its stay-the-course message in Afghanistan despite a week of anti-American riots, the point-blank killing of US military advisers and growing election-year demands to bring the troops home.
In an echo of the Bush administration on continuing the unpopular war in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon insisted Monday that the wave of violence against Americans will not derail the war strategy in Afghanistan or speed up the calendar for bringing American forces home.
"We work alongside thousands of Afghans every single day to ensure a better future for the Afghan people. And nothing that has happened over the past week is going to deter us from that goal," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "We`re making progress. We have put the enemy on its heels in many parts of the country."
Administration spokesmen were at pains to answer the larger question of whether to keep fighting a war that has lost support not only in the United States but also among the people the US has pledged to protect. The perception that Afghans are ungrateful for US sacrifice and are turning on their American advisers complicates President Barack Obama`s plan to ease out of combat against Taliban extremists over the next two years.
Under current strategy, tens of thousands of US forces will remain in Afghanistan at least through the end of this year and Afghan forces would have full control of the country`s security by the end of 2014. Both Democrats and Republicans have said the timetable should move up.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the violence will not mean faster troop withdrawal. He pointed to Obama`s rationale for expanding the war early in his presidency.
"The No. 1 priority, the reason why US troops are in Afghanistan in the first place, is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately, ultimately defeat al Qaeda," Carney said.
Administration officials said they believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s fragile government could collapse and the Taliban would regain power if the US were to walk away. Their argument recalls the Bush administration insistence at the height of violence in Iraq that the war was in US national security interests and that abandoning a commitment to stabilize the country would squander painful US sacrifices.
But even in Iraq, cases of supposedly friendly forces turning their guns on American troops were very rare.
As with Iraq, voters in the US are questioning the wisdom of a long-running conflict they once largely supported. This time, with the US election campaign well under way, discontent with the war in Afghanistan is compounded by its high monetary cost at a time of tightening budgets.
A Pew Research Center poll indicates that more than half, 56 percent, of Americans want troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible, while just 38 percent believe the US should stay until Afghanistan is stabilized. The poll was taken just before Obama`s State of the Union address in late January.