US goal in Afghanistan now 'within reach': Obama

Published: May 2, 2012

US President Obama and Afghan President Karzai exchange documents after signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. PHOTO: REUTERS

US President Barack Obama speaks to troops at Bagram Air Base in Kabul. 
PHOTO: REUTERS US President Obama and Afghan President Karzai exchange documents after signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement at the Presidential Palace in Kabul.
PHOTO: REUTERS

BAGRAM AIR BASE: President Barack Obama marked the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death with a speedy trip to Afghanistan, signing a strategic pact with Kabul on Wednesday and delivering an election-year message to Americans that the war is winding down.

Shortly after arriving under the cover of darkness, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement at the Afghan leader’s palace that sets out a long-term US role in Afghanistan, including aid and advisers.

The deal may provide Afghans with reassurances that they will not be abandoned when most NATO combat troops leave in 2014. For Obama, it was an opportunity to draw a line under a war started by his predecessor in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, but which is now widely unpopular at home.

“My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” Obama said in a televised address to the American people against the backdrop of armored vehicles and a US flag.

“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it’s time to renew America,” he said. “This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end.”

Nearly 3,000 US and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghanistan war since the Taliban rulers were ousted in 2001.

Obama visited with troops during a stay of roughly six hours in the country and emphasised Bin Laden’s demise, an event that his re-election campaign has touted as one of his greatest achievements in office. Obama left Afghanistan on Air Force One shortly after delivering his speech.

“Not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Obama said to cheers.

But even as he asserted in his speech that there was a “clear path” to fulfilling the US mission in Afghanistan and made his strongest claim yet that the defeat of al Qaeda was “within reach,” he warned of further hardship ahead.

“I recognise that many Americans are tired of war … But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly,” he said at Bagram airbase outside of Kabul, where only months ago thousands of Afghans rioted after US troops accidentally burned copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

The incident plunged already tense relations to their lowest point in years.

While speaking in broad terms of “difficult days ahead,” Obama did not address some of the thorniest challenges.

Those include corruption in Karzai’s weak government, the unsteadiness of Afghan forces in the face of a resilient Taliban insurgency, and Washington’s strained ties with Pakistan where US officials see selective cooperation in cracking down on militants fueling cross-border violence.

Those risks, along with the tactical gains US commanders see in parts of the country, were laid out in a new Pentagon report released on Tuesday.

Obama met Karzai at his walled garden palace in Kabul, where they signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). “By signing this document, we close the last 10 years and open a new season of equal relations,” Karzai said after the meeting.

Within Afghanistan, the palace signing ceremony was aimed at sending a message to the Taliban and other groups that they cannot wait out 130,000 foreign troops and retake power.

The agreement does not specify whether a reduced number of US troops, possibly special forces, and advisers will remain after NATO’s 2014 withdrawal deadline. That will be dealt with in a separate status of forces agreement still being worked out.

Tough security for Obama

Large parts of central Kabul surrounding Karzai’s palace were locked down for the Obama’s arrival, with police sealing off streets around the city’s walled Green Zone, home to most embassies and NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters.

Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in the same area only weeks before, paralysing the capital’s center and diplomatic area for 18 hours. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, but US and Afghan officials blamed the militant Haqqani network.

After a US troop surge that Obama ordered in late 2009, US and NATO forces have managed to weaken Taliban militants, but the movement is far from defeated.

Obama plans to host NATO leaders in Chicago on May 20-21 for a summit to discuss the specifics of the troop withdrawals and look at ways to ensure that Afghanistan does not collapse into civil war when foreign combat forces leave.

The Obama administration is expected to struggle in securing its desired level of contributions for Afghan security forces from its cash-strapped European allies.

Obama said that after his surge troops are withdrawn this fall, “reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home,” suggesting that he would not keep the force at a plateau level of 68,000 for one or two more fighting seasons as some generals might prefer.

The strategic partnership agreement could also help paper over strains in ties between Washington and Kabul, which have been hurt by a number of incidents involving US soldiers that have infuriated public opinion, including the massacre of 17 civilians in Kandahar and the Quran burnings.

Negotiations on the SPA were delayed for months until US negotiators agreed to Karzai’s demands to hand over operation of American prisons in the country to Afghan control and give leadership of night raids on homes to Afghan forces.

You can read the full text of President Obama’s speech here.

 

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (16)

  • KR
    May 2, 2012 - 8:04AM

    May be it is time for us to get our act together since United States will be leaving Afghanistan in 2014. After that who in the world are we going to blame for our rotten lives?

    Recommend

  • muradshaha
    May 2, 2012 - 8:26AM

    Big Joke Stratgic Pact with Afghanistan a country with almost no National Army,country with no Trade,Country whose 90% is under War Lords and Taliban Control,Country who’s President cannot even move out of his Presidential Palace,Country which is under occupation,and most important of all US president comes stays for few Hours that too at Night and signs a so called Stratgic Pact ……This pact has no Legal,Moral,Diplomatic and International standing

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    May 2, 2012 - 8:37AM

    For the Taliban supporters, the US is not going to completely leave the area. There would be a lot more drones in the air, many hundreds or even thousands of SEALS and Special Forces in and around Afghanistan. The mop-up and cleanup operations would continue from the naval bases in the gulf and neighboring countries. As long as the terrorists are around the US should and would not leave the civilians at their mercy.

    Recommend

  • Billoo Bhaya
    May 2, 2012 - 8:38AM

    This is what defeat looks like. An American President arrives unannounced in the middle of night to sign an agreement that could not wait for the day to come?? So important??? Like it was Potsdam in 1945?? No it was Kabul 2012 in the middle of the night. What does that tell you??? NATO influence exists within Kabul. Rest of the country belongs to the enemy that they refused to talk to acknowledge that they existed. Obama’s speech and its content were similar to speeches made in South Vietnam just a few days before the Viet Cong occupied the Embassy. They also gave similar commitment to the South Vietnamese that they will around to help them. It all sounds too familiar.

    Recommend

  • Baby ka Husband
    May 2, 2012 - 8:46AM

    In less than 6 months of Pakistan suspending NATO supplies the US has signed an agreement to withdraw. They are also in liason with the Taliban to get a safe exit. That’s how bad the situation is in Afghanistan for NATO forces and the US DOD has acknowledged it as so. Now Pakistan needs to play its cards carefully so that we can eat Indians lunch in Afghanistan.

    Recommend

  • May 2, 2012 - 9:00AM

    Say one thing, do another. The Obama deception.

    Recommend

  • Pasha-Nirasha
    May 2, 2012 - 10:15AM

    @Moise: Why? What did he do? Did he take money for fighting the terrorists and then went about training and equipping them? Or did he double-bill for services that were never rendered in the first place? In what way did Obama deceive Pakistan?

    Recommend

  • Ahmer Ali
    May 2, 2012 - 12:00PM

    Mr. Obama please don’t deceive and fool the US’ nation and the world more and tell the reality to the world and US’ nation that we are facing the most worst ever defeat in Afghanistan and don’t camouflage your the worst ever defeat from the world and US’ nation by giving such these types of hypocritical,false and embellished statements on the international media.

    Recommend

  • A.S.Ahamed Farooq
    May 2, 2012 - 12:11PM

    Barack Obama is hoodwinking the Americans and deceiving himself when he says the goal in Afghanistan is on the verge of attaining.For Obama Kabul is Afghanistan.Controlling Kabul will accomplish their task.America has miserably failed to achieve its objectives in invading Afghanistan.It has of course murdered Osama Bin Laden but the primary objective of securing Afghanistan from the Taliban fighters remain unresolved in spite of sacrificing thousands of American soldiers and squandering billions and billions of dollars.

    Recommend

  • vigilant
    May 2, 2012 - 9:01PM

    i think there is saying “to hide one lie you need to speak hundreds” now US has made a new one by “to cover one blunder u have do 100s more”……..
    Agreement with-out considering people who control 90% of Afghanistan is doomed to fail.

    Recommend

  • Checkmate
    May 2, 2012 - 10:06PM

    US is not leaving; this means that they will keep investing in Afghanistan for next 12 years, which in turn means a strong Afghanistan, militarily, politically and economically.

    Recommend

  • May 2, 2012 - 10:52PM

    Dear Ahmer Ali,

    I strongly urge you to review the facts in regards to the situation in Afghanistan before jumping to a conclusion. The U.S came to Afghanistan to dismantle Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network, responsible for the massacre on 9/11. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist network has been dismantled, and their leader was killed in Pakistan on May 2nd of last year. The remaining few from Al-Qaeda are on the run, and that day is not far when they will be caught and captured. We have also been successful in freeing the people of Afghanistan from the Taliban rule. And the proof lies in the democratically elected Afghan government. Do you think it would be possible for us to claim these changes if we were facing defeat in Afghanistan? We agree that challenges still remain, and our job is not done yet. But to suggest that our president is falsifying the situation in Afghanistan is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. The ‘2014’ withdrawal date was planned well in advance, and our forces appear to be on course to meeting that goal. At the same time, we are approaching a crucial phase in the WOT, and it is important for us to not rush the exit strategy and leave all of our accomplishments at risk. Therefore, we are monitoring the situation in Afghanistan closely in accordance with our Afghan counterparts, and plan to leave Afghanistan safe and stable.

    Recommend

  • j. von hettlingen
    May 3, 2012 - 4:45PM

    The U.S. sees much at stake in Afghanistan after 2014. A budget of $4,1 billion is being finalised that aims at funding the Afghan forces. The U.S. and the non-ISAF countries, such as Japan, Pakistan, India and the Gulf states, will cover more than half. Iran wasn’t asked. The question is why hadn’t China and Russia been asked to contibute to the budget? It would be in their interest to have a stable Afghanistan. China has problems with Islamist extremists on its western border. Russia complains constantly about the influx of heroin from Afghanistan.

    Recommend

  • Moise
    May 3, 2012 - 7:05PM

    Why Tribune defends Obama, CIA and US? All his deeds in my last comments are not approved. Shame on you ET for selling out for US dollars.

    Recommend

  • Baby ka Husband
    May 3, 2012 - 7:12PM

    @Moise:
    I know ET is defender of others rather than Pakistan and repeatedly blocks messages but allows Indian trolls to vent their hatred.

    Recommend

  • Roshan
    May 3, 2012 - 11:01PM

    @mudarshah,

    Your comments about afghanistan which is your next door islamic neighbour is quite degrading, disrepectful and frankly just a fantasy. Certainly from an afghan point of view it is quite disheartening that our neighbour iranis and pakistanis don’t wish that afghanistan go forward. What bad will it bring to pakistan if afghanistan was stable and cleansed of the scumbags you guys don’t want in your country?
    you refer to afghanistan as a country with ‘no army’. well this so called ‘nor army’ has shown more courage and caused more casualities amongst the foreigners than your half a million strong ‘army’. They have retaliated when they felt the honour of their country, religion or culture was compromised. What has your army done about it’s 24 people which were butchered by the americans? all you guys can do is to stop containers. hahaha. you stop containers on one hand and on the other hand you want more tax on them.

    And yes karzai might be the mayor of kabul but is that any different than your leaders? can zardari go freely where he wants? can even kayani go to fata whenever he wants?Recommend

More in World