Afghanistan — Afghanistan Still Crucial to U.S. Interests, Obama Says

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2010 — Afghanistan remains cru­cial to Amer­i­can nation­al inter­ests, and the Unit­ed States will need to pro­vide assis­tance to that nation for years, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said in Toron­to yes­ter­day.

Dur­ing a break in the G-20 Sum­mit, Oba­ma said Afghanistan can­not again become a launch­ing pad for ter­ror­ist attacks. The pres­i­dent added that Afghanistan will require help even after it becomes respon­si­ble for its own secu­ri­ty.

“I think that we’re going to need to pro­vide assis­tance to Afghanistan for a long time to come,” Oba­ma said.

The Afghans still are build­ing their nation­al, provin­cial and local gov­ern­ments, the pres­i­dent added, and secu­ri­ty is nec­es­sary so that Afghans can plant the seeds for their nation’s econ­o­my.

Afghanistan today is “a very poor coun­try,” Oba­ma said.

“So on a whole range of issues – from eco­nom­ic, devel­op­ment, set­ting up courts, set­ting up effec­tive police forces, a polit­i­cal sys­tem that is trans­par­ent and fair, as well as with respect to secu­ri­ty – we intend to be a part­ner with Afghanistan over the long term,” he said. “But that is dif­fer­ent from us hav­ing troops on the ground.”

The U.S. mil­i­tary surge the pres­i­dent approved is under way in Afghanistan. It’s designed to pro­vide the Afghan gov­ern­ment the space and the time to build up its secu­ri­ty forces and to blunt the momen­tum of the Tal­iban. U.S. and allied troops are pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty to improve gov­er­nance.

The change in com­mand for inter­na­tion­al and U.S. forces in Afghanistan from Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will not hin­der the mission’s impe­tus, the pres­i­dent said, not­ing that U.S. allies in the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai endorsed it.

Progress in Afghanistan will be tough, the pres­i­dent acknowl­edged, but he added that he expects real, mea­sur­able progress by the end of the year.

“We will con­duct a full review,” Oba­ma said. “Those things that are not work­ing, we will fix. Those things that are work­ing we will build on — both on the civil­ian side and on the mil­i­tary side.”

U.S. poli­cies in Afghanistan are com­pli­cat­ed, the pres­i­dent point­ed out.

“Right now, the debate sur­round­ing Afghanistan is pre­sent­ed as either we get up and leave imme­di­ate­ly because there’s no chance at a pos­i­tive out­come, or we stay basi­cal­ly indef­i­nite­ly and do what­ev­er it takes for as long as it takes,” Oba­ma said. “And what I said last year I will repeat, which is we have a vital nation­al inter­est in mak­ing sure that Afghanistan is not used as a base to launch ter­ror­ist attacks.”

The Afghan peo­ple want the same things all oth­er peo­ple want: basic rule of law, a voice in gov­er­nance, eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty, basic phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty, elec­tric­i­ty, roads, and an abil­i­ty to get a har­vest to mar­ket and get a fair price for it with­out hav­ing to pay bribes in between, the pres­i­dent said.

“I think we can make a dif­fer­ence, and the coali­tion can make a dif­fer­ence, in them meet­ing those aspi­ra­tions even as we are meet­ing our secu­ri­ty inter­ests,” he said. “Those two things are tied togeth­er.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)