Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele tried to put out a political firestorm Friday that erupted over his comments suggesting the war in Afghanistan cannot be won.
Steele was fending off calls for his resignation from conservative commentators for his comment that the Afghanistan war was not a conflict the United States wanted to engage in. Steele at a Thursday fundraiser questioned why President Barack Obama did not understand that "one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan."
The remarks prompted a flurry of criticism from Democrats and conservative commentators, who noted that Steele's statement seemed in conflict with his party, which broadly supports the Afghanistan war.
Former South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson, who challenged Steele for the RNC's top job last year, called on the committee to oust the chairman
Steele released a statement Friday afternoon emphasizing his support for Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. He also described the war as a "necessary one" in that statement.
“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan
is a difficult task," he said in the statement.
"We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan."
The statement from Steele followed a separate statement from RNC Communications Director Doug Heye issued earlier on Friday.
"The chairman clearly supports our troops but
believes that success of the war effort in Afghanistan requires the
ongoing support of the American people," Heye said in the statement.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and RedState's Erick Erickson both called for Steele to resign after the initial comments circulated.
"Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in," Steele said on Thursday. "But it was the president who was trying to be cute by half by building a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?"
Steele has faced criticism over controversial statements in the past, as well as calls for his resignation over RNC spending.
Here's Steele's full Friday afternoon statement:
“As we enter the Fourth of July weekend, I proudly remember standing with Maryland National Guardsmen on their way to the Middle East and later stood with the mothers of soldiers lost at war. There is no question that America must win the war on terror.
“During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.
“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”
This story was posted at 2:14 p.m. and updated at 2:52 p.m. and 4:46 p.m.