Af-Pak challenges remain, but US on track: Obama

Obama announced the broad contours of results of his Af-Pak Policy review at White House conference.

Last Updated: Dec 17, 2010, 00:31 AM IST

Washington: Noting that the challenges
remains tough in Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Barack
Obama on Thursday said that the US is on track, to achieve its goals
in the war against terrorism against al-Qaeda in the Af-Pak
region.

Obama`s year-old Af-Pak strategy is showing "progress"
in containing al-Qaeda in the two countries but the "challenge
remains" to make these gains "durable and sustainable," the
key assessment report on the regional situation said today.

The US President announced the broad contours of the
results of his Af-Pak Policy review at a crowded White House
news conference. He spoke with the Afghan President Hamid
Karzai and the Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, before
making public announcement. The US President said that both
the Af-Pak leaders agreed with the results of the review.

"As a result of our integrated efforts in 2010, we are
setting the conditions... to begin a responsible,
conditions-based US troop reduction in July 2011," the review
said.

Observing that the top al-Qaeda leadership is weak
than ever post 9/11, Obama reiterated that the US troops would
begin withdrawal of its troops from July 2011, which he said
would be condition based on the situation on the ground, and
hoped that the transition would end by 2014, even though the
US and NATO forces are committed to a long term relationship
with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Acknowledging that Pakistan has taken considerable
step in the war against terrorism, Obama also called on
Pakistan to do more to prevent the continued presence of
terrorist safe havens in the country.

Obama said he would be traveling to Pakistan next
year.

Obama said there are "areas where we need to do
better," and added that this continues to be a very difficult
endeavor.

I can report, thanks to the extraordinary service of
our troops and our civilians on the ground, we are on track to
achieve our goals, he said.

In pursuit of our core goal, we are seeing significant
progress," Obama said, adding that Al Qaeda leadership is
under more pressure "than at any point."

He said senior leaders "have been killed" and that
it`s "harder for them" to train others and launch attacks.

Noting that it is determined to achieve the target of
complete transition of security to Afghan forces by 2014,
the White House said the US is committed for a long term
presence in Afghanistan which has been a victim of instability
and civil war for three decades now.

According to a five-page summary of the report called
the "Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review",
the Taliban momentum has been "arrested in much of the
(war-torn) country and reversed in some key areas, although
these gains remain fragile and reversible."

"Key parts of our strategy are working well," said
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but noted that there would
be set back in America`s relationship with Pakistan going
forward.

The transition would begin in 2011 and would conclude
in 2014, she said at a news conference immediately thereafter,
which was also addressed by the Defense Secretary, Robert
Gates. The US is committed to defeat, dismantle and disrupt Al
Qaeda and the Taliban, she said.

"I`ve been very clear about our core goal.

It`s not to defeat every last threat to the security
of Afghanistan, because ultimately it is Afghans who must
secure their country.

And it`s not nation-building, because it is Afghans
who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on
disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan
and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America
and our allies in the future," Obama said.

"In pursuit of our core goal, we are seeing
significant progress. Today, al-Qaida`s senior leadership in
the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more
pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine
years ago. Senior leaders have been killed.

It`s harder for them to recruit; it`s harder for
them to travel; it`s harder for them to train; it`s harder
for them to plot and launch attacks.

In short, al-Qaida is hunkered down.

It will take time to ultimately defeat
al-Qaida, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent
on attacking our country.

But make no mistake, we are going to remain
relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist
organization," Obama said.

The report said the US strategy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan is centred on defeating al-Qaeda in theatre and
preventing its capacity to threaten America, its citizens and
allies.

"Progress is most evident in the gains Afghan and
coalition forces are making in clearing the Taliban heartland
of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and in the significantly
increased size and improved capability of the Afghan National
Security Forces (ANSF)," the report said.

Responding to questions, Gates said Obama "has made
clear" that the drawdown of troops in July "will be conditions
based.

He said "In terms of what that line looks like beyond
July 2011, I think the answer is, we don`t know at this
point." The hope, Gates says, is that drawdowns can
accelerate."

Pakistan, the Defence Secretary, said, "can and must
do more to shut down the flow of insurgents across the
border."

At the same time, he said Pakistan has committed
troops to the fight and that it is still dealing with the
effects of severe flooding.

Clinton said the partnership between the US and
Pakistan is "slowly and steadily improving," Clinton says,
"and that is yielding tangible results on the ground."

The United States won`t "repeat history," Clinton
says. "We will continue to support the people of Afghanistan
and Pakistan," she said.

"One the one hand we are making progress, but on the
other we have a long way to go," Clinton said in response to a
question.

The report said "While the momentum achieved by the
Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the
country and reversed in some key areas, these gains remain
fragile and reversible. Consolidating those gains will require
that we make more progress with Pakistan to eliminate
sanctuaries for violent extremist networks."

It acknowledged that it will take time to eventually
defeat al-Qaeda and said Pakistan and Afghanistan "continue to
be the operational base for the group that attacked us on
9/11."

On US-Pak ties, the report, which came days after the
demise of US Special Representative for Af-Pak region Richard
Holbrooke who played a key role in drafting it, said:
"Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year
has been substantial, but also uneven."

PTI