No sign of speedier Afghanistan withdrawal from Obama, Cameron

No sign of speedier Afghanistan withdrawal from Obama, Cameron

President Obama on Wednesday reaffirmed that the United States will not accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the recent outbreak of violence in the country and heightened anti-America sentiment in the war zone.

“I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’ll make any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Obama said in a Rose Garden news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron that took place as part of an official visit.

“We’ve already taken out 10,000 troops, and we’re slated to draw down an additional 23,000 by this summer,” Obama continued. “There will be a robust coalition presence during this fighting season, and after the fighting season, in conjunction with our allies ... [we’ll discuss] how to make sure [the drawdown] doesn’t result in a steep cliff after 2014, but rather is gradual.”

The president’s remarks come three days after a rogue American soldier allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians. In recent days, Obama said the isolated incident shouldn’t provoke a “rush for the exits,” and that the United States should continue its withdrawal in a “responsible way.” But the incident — coupled with the recent burning of Qurans and violent demonstrations in the country — have caused some to push for a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At the news conference Wednesday, Obama said he and Cameron will analyze the drawdown further at the 2012 G8 summit this summer in Chicago, which will be held alongside the NATO summit.

And while a transition in Afghanistan takes place, Obama told reporters, “we can never forget … that our forces are making very real progress dismantling al Qaeda, breaking the Taliban’s momentum and training Afghan forces” so U.S. troops can eventually come home.

Because of the progress being made on the ground, “we’re seeing an Afghan National Security Force that is getting stronger and more robust and more capable of operating on its own,” Obama said.

The president added that the ultimate goal is to ensure that the Afghan security force can operate on its own over the course of the next two years.

While Obama said there will be “multiple challenges” along the way, and that the United States “can’t be naïve about the difficulties of withdrawing from the region,” he added: “If we maintain a steady, responsible transition process, which is what we’ve designed, then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security.”

Cameron, who stood beside Obama on the warm March afternoon, reaffirmed his support, saying, “We will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for al Qaeda to launch attacks against us.”

While Cameron cautioned that the joined forces “won’t build a perfect Afghanistan,” tangible progress is being made in the country, including “more markets open, more health centers working, more children going to school.”

At the same time, the prime minister said, “we can help ensure that Afghanistan is capable of delivering its own security without the need for large numbers of foreign troops.”

On Wednesday, both leaders sought to telegraph a message that the war is winding down.

“We are now in the final phases of our military mission,” Cameron said. “That means completing the training of the Afghan forces so that they can take over the tasks of maintaining security themselves.”

During the news conference, the two leaders also sent a very clear message to Iran.

“Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it,” Obama said. “Meet your international obligations or face the consequences. The window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”

Cameron added that the leaders are considering all options and “nothing is off the table.”

— This story was updated at 2:23 p.m.