U.S., Britain Will Stick With Strategy in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2012 President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed the two nations will continue to follow the strategy for Afghanistan that calls for all combat troops out of the country by the end of 2014.
The two leaders spoke today during a Rose Garden news conference following talks at the White House.
The United States and United Kingdom are the two largest troop-contributing nations for the NATO-led effort in Afghanistan. Both countries have made tremendous sacrifices in the nation, and there remains a tough row to hoe for the future.
“What’s undeniable, though, and what we can never forget is that our forces are making very real progress dismantling al-Qaida, breaking the Taliban’s momentum and training Afghan forces so that they can take the lead and our troops can come home,” the president said.
Britain has fought alongside American troops right from the start, Cameron said.
“We have 9,500 men and women still serving there,” he said. “More than 400 have given their lives, and today again we commemorate each and every one of them.”
Afghan national security forces already have responsibility for protecting more than half of the nation’s population. “Today the prime minister and I reaffirmed the transition plan that we agreed to with our coalition partners in Lisbon,” Obama said.
The United Kingdom will not give up on Afghanistan, Cameron said. “We won’t build a perfect Afghanistan, although let’s be clear: We are making some tangible progress with more markets open, more health centers working, more children going to school, more people able to achieve a basic standard of living and security,” the prime minister said. “But we can help ensure that Afghanistan is capable of delivering its own security without the need for large numbers of foreign troops.”
The two men discussed the next phase of transition, which will be a focus of part of the NATO Summit in Chicago in May. “This includes shifting to a support role next year in 2013 in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility in 2014,” Obama said. “We’re going to complete this mission, and we’re going to do it responsibly.”
Cameron said the coalition in Afghanistan is in the final phases of the military mission. “That means completing the training of the Afghan forces so that they can take over the tasks of maintaining security themselves,” he said. “We won't be in a combat role after 2014. At the same time we will also back [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai in working towards an Afghan-led political settlement.”
The president stressed there will continue to be challenges, but he does not expect any sudden changes in the coalition drawdown in Afghanistan. The United States already has withdrawn 10,000 troops and will withdraw another 23,000 by the end of the summer.
“There will be a robust coalition presence inside of Afghanistan during this fighting season to make sure that the Taliban understand that they're not going to be able to regain momentum,” Obama said.
After the fighting season, coalition leaders will look to transition in a way that gradually transfers responsibility for the whole country to Afghan government forces.