Washington: US President Barack Obama on Thursday categorically ruled out immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan from July 2011, the date he had earlier set for drawdown of troops from the war torn country.
"We didn`t say we`d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. We said we`d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility," Obama said at a White House joint press briefing with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.
"Here`s what we did not say last year. We did not say that, starting July 2011, suddenly there would be no troops from the US or allied countries in Afghanistan," Obama said in response to a question.
That is the tragedy that was put forward and what we`ve also said is that in December of this year, a year after this strategy has been put in place, at a time when the additional troops have been in place and have begun implementing strategy, that we`ll conduct a review and we`ll make an assessment, he said.
"So we are in the midpoint of implementing the strategy that we came up with last year. We`ll do a review at the end of this year," he said.
On David Petraeus
Defending his decision to nominate General David Petraeus as his new war commander in Afghanistan, Obama said Petraeus understands the Afghan strategy because he helped shape it.
"My expectation is that he will be outstanding in implementing it, and we will not miss a beat because of the change in command in the Afghan theatre," he said.
Keep in mind that, during this entire time, General Petraeus has been the CENTCOM commander, which means he`s had responsibility in part for overseeing what happened in Afghanistan, and that is part of the reason why I think he`s going to do such a capable job, Obama said.
"Not only does he have extraordinary experience in Iraq, not only did he help write the manual for dealing with insurgencies, but he also is intimately familiar with the players. He knows President Karzai. He knows the other personnel who are already on the ground," he said.
Obama said he would be insisting on a unity of purpose on the part of all branches of the US government that reflects the enormous sacrifices that are being made by the young men and women who are there.
`Not seeking victory in Afghanistan`
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday said that America is neither seeking victory against terrorism nor stabilisation in Afghanistan in the next 13 months.
"The position that I have taken all along is that what we want to make sure is that in fact we do have the right strategy. But it also requires giving the effort enough time to be able to demonstrate whether or not it`s working," Gates told a Pentagon news conference.
"We`re not asking for victory by December or by July of 2011. We`re not asking that Afghanistan be stabilised 13 months from now," Gates said in response to a question at the press conference also addressed by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
He added by December, the US wanted to prove that their approach in Afghanistan are showing progress and are headed in the right direction.
"So I think the expectations on the civilian side are realistic. But the reality is that at every step of the way, the military was deeply involved in the development of the President`s strategy and signed on to the President`s strategy," he said.
We`re not to July 2011 yet. There`s a lot to do between now and the end of this year. Then to get to a point where we start to return those -- some of those surge troops – based on conditions on the ground, numbers, places -- we`re not even close to understanding that at this point. It`s too early,
"Getting there using this strategy, with everything we understand right now, is still the right decision," he said.
Gates said his view all along is that the opportunity for a political solution in Afghanistan and for a reconciliation will only come when the momentum of the Taliban has been reversed and they see that the chances of their being successful are diminishing day by day.
"In that context, I think we all are cognisant of the importance of reintegration and reconciliation as part of the end of this process.”
“My view is the Taliban need to suffer more reverses before that can happen," he said.
"But at the end of the day, the President will decide whether changes are to be made in the strategy.”
“I would tell you, as a going-in proposition, we are all on board for beginning this process of -- this gradual process of drawdown in July of 2011.”
“That is the President`s decision, and that decision stands as far as all of us are concerned," Gates said.