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Obama: Bilateral Cooperation Critical to Enduring Mission in Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 – President Barack Obama emphasized in Canada yesterday the importance of strong bilateral cooperation to confront global challenges, calling the situation in Afghanistan among the most pressing.

“There is an enduring military mission against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and along the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Obama said during a joint news conference in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Obama said he ordered an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan last week over concerns about “a deteriorating situation” there. "I ordered the additional troops there because I felt it was necessary to stabilize the situation," he said.

Any additional troop commitments, Obama said, would be based on a review his administration is undertaking.

That review, expected to be completed in two months, will serve as a blueprint for “a comprehensive strategy in pursuit of clear and achievable goals,” he said.

Obama promised to consult with the Canadian government as the strategy takes shape “to make certain that all our partners are working in the same direction.” He said his talks with Harper yesterday addressed the need for enhanced diplomacy and development efforts, as well as military forces.

“In April, we’ll have a broader dialogue with our NATO allies on how to strengthen the alliance to meet the evolving security challenges around the world,” Obama said.

The president extended thanks to Canada for its contributions to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Canada has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan, most operating in the restive Kandahar province.

“The people of Canada have an enormous burden there that they have borne,” Obama said. “You’ve put at risk your most precious resource, your brave men and women in uniform.”

“Those of us in the United States are extraordinarily grateful for the sacrifices of the families here in Canada, of troops that have been deployed and have carried on their missions with extraordinary valor,” he said.

Obama said in response to a reporter’s question that he did not pressure the prime minister to extend Canada’s 2011 deadline for withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.

“All I did was to compliment Canada on the troops that are there, the 108 that have fallen as a consequence of engagement in Afghanistan, but also the fact that Canada’s largest foreign aid recipient is Afghanistan," he said. “There has been extraordinary effort there. And we just wanted to make sure that we were saying ‘thank you.’”

Obama’s visit came nine days after Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Ottawa to meet with Canadian government and military leaders.

Mullen praised Canada’s “extraordinary efforts” in Afghanistan, and called that continued support over the next couple of years “absolutely vital.” Canada’s leadership in Regional Command South has made “a huge difference,” he said, and helped to improve the lives of the Afghan people.

“I have said it many times before: the U.S. military cannot do it alone, and we certainly cannot do it without our Canadian brothers and sisters,” Mullen said.

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