Washington: US President Barack Obama today said America had "turned the tide of war" in Afghanistan in the last three years, asserting that his goal to defeat al-Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild was now "within reach".
In a nationally televised address to the nation from Bagram air force base in Afghanistan, where he made an unannounced visit last night, Obama said, "America spent nearly eight years fighting a different war in Iraq. And al-Qaeda`s extremist allies within the Taliban have waged a brutal insurgency. But over the last three years the tide has turned."
Obama said US broke the Taliban`s momentum, built strong Afghan security forces and "devastated" al-Qaeda`s leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders.
"And one year ago from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat al-Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild is now within our reach. Still, there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over," he said.
It was here from within these borders that al-Qaeda launched the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children, he said.
"And so 10 years ago the United States and our allies went to war to make sure that al-Qaida could never again use this country to launch attacks against us. Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated. In 2002, bin Laden and his lieutenants escaped across the border and established safe haven in Pakistan," Obama said.
The US President last night made his way into Kabul amid secrecy and tight security and signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, strengthening 10 years of US aid to the war-torn nation after NATO combat troops leave in 2014.
"We have begun to transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already nearly half of the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month at a NATO summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year.
"International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward," Obama said.
He said he will work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014: counter-terrorism and continued training.
"But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people," he asserted.
"We are pursuing a negotiated peace. In coordination with the Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We`ve made it clear that they can be a part of this future if they break with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws.
"Many members of the Taliban, from foot soldiers to leaders, have indicated an interest in reconciliation. The path to peace is now set before them. Those who refuse to walk it will face strong Afghan security forces backed by the United States and our allies," Obama said.
Asserting that US and its international partners were building a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia, Obama made it clear to Pakistan that it should be an equal partner in achieving this goal.
"I have made it clear to Afghanistan`s neighbour Pakistan that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan`s sovereignty, interests, and democratic institutions. In pursuit of a durable peace, America has no designs beyond an end to al-Qaeda safe-havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty," he said in his address, coinciding with the first anniversary Osama bin Laden`s death.
Obama`s remarks on Pakistan comes a day after the US Department of Defence in a report to the Congress said that Pakistan continues to support terrorist safe havens inside its territory.
Pakistan`s selective counter insurgency operations, passive acceptance of insurgent safe havens and its unwillingness to interdict materials such as IEDs components undermine the security of Afghanistan, it said in a Congressionally mandated report.
Later, a senior defence department official said that as a responsible member of the international community it is the duty of Pakistan to control all violence that emanates from its border into other areas.