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

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

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.”

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