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May 13th, 2010

Obama: Afghan War to Worsen Before Improving

“There’s going to be some hard fighting over the next several months”

Image: U.S. President Obama and Afghan President Karzai make statements during a joint news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

May 12, 2010

WASHINGTON — The war in Afghanistan will get worse before it gets better, President Barack Obama warned on Wednesday, but he declared his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces next year remains on track.

Standing alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama said, “What I’ve tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months.”

The two leaders spoke at a White House news conference as U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan prepare to push hard into the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar Province in June. The campaign for Kandahar, already under way in districts outside the city, is expected to be among the bloodiest of the nearly nine-year-old war.

“There is no denying the progress,” Obama said. “Nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan.” …

The United States has taken “extraordinary measures” to avoid civilian deaths in the war, Obama said, a nod to Karzai’s loud complaints last year that U.S. air strikes were killing innocents and making enemies of those who might be friends. …

Heavy restrictions on when U.S. warplanes can fire at suspected militants are among the changes to war policy installed by the general Obama sent last year to turn around the war. …

Karzai receives royal treatment (NBC Nightly News, May 12, 2010) — President Obama insists prior tensions between the two had been overstated. NBC’s White House Correspondent Savannah Guthrie reports. (01:56)

In announcing a major expansion of the war last year — one that will bring a record 98,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan by the end of this summer — Obama also said he would begin bringing some forces home in July 2011. The date was meant to reassure Pakistan and Obama’s anti-war supporters at home that the war was not open-ended. It was also intended as a signal to Karzai that the United States expected something for its commitment, namely progress in establishing a real working government and attacking endemic corruption. …

Billions in aid, roughly 80 percent of it from the United States, has helped provide schools, roads, government offices and impartial judges. The money and the constant presence of U.S. forces have failed to decisively turn the tide of the war, however, and military commanders say time is dwindling to make a difference.

The Taliban have surged back over the past five years to become a flexible army with plenty of resources and wider popular support than the United States has sometimes been willing to acknowledge.

“I’ve used whatever political capital I have to make the case to the American people that this is in our national security interests, that it’s absolutely critical that we succeed on this mission,” Obama said.

Obama’s Afghanistan exit strategy depends heavily on propping up a strong central government in Afghanistan. But U.S. military and civilian officials say that won’t be possible until the local population learns to trust the new authorities.

Only a quarter of the key regions in Afghanistan support or even sympathize with the government in Kabul, with large swaths of the country still hesitant to swing behind the U.S.-backed authority, according to a Pentagon assessment released last month.

The report found that as of March, much of the country is either neutral to Afghan authorities or supportive of the Taliban insurgency. Only 29 of 121 districts in Afghanistan identified as “key terrain” support or sympathize with the Kabul government. …

Karzai appears to agree with outside analysts who say that senior Taliban, including some with blood on their hands, must be at the table for any serious negotiation to stick. …

Obama said the two leaders will keep talking about how to approach the larger goal of a full reconciliation that could end the war.


Related report

Many Afghans feel anger, frustration at war

Image: Afghan protesters shout anti-American slogans during a protest rally in Kandahar
Protesters shout anti-American slogans during a rally in Kandahar in April 2010, after NATO troops opened fire on a bus carrying civilians killing four people. (Photo credit: Allauddin Khan / AP)


Civilian Casualties Rising in Afghanistan

May 12, 2010

WASHINGTON — The number of civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has risen this year, despite efforts to limit fallout from the widening war against the Taliban, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

Citing NATO statistics, the Pentagon said U.S. and NATO forces killed 90 civilians from January to April — a 76 percent rise from the 51 deaths in the same period of 2009.

The increase demonstrates the difficulty of shielding Afghans from violence as the United States pours thousands more troops into Afghanistan to challenge the Taliban, often in strongholds where insurgents hide among the population.

The U.S. military has made reducing civilian casualties an explicit goal of its revised Afghan strategy, given that popular support for NATO and Afghan forces is ultimately needed to isolate the Taliban and win the war. …

The United Nations says foreign and Afghan troops killed 25 percent fewer civilians in 2009 than during the previous year. But civilian deaths rose overall because the number killed by insurgents climbed 40 percent.


Related reports on this site

Angry Protest After U.S. Raid (April 29, 2010)

Image: Afghans burn tires during a protest
Afghans burn tires during a protest in the Surkh Rod district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, on Thursday, April 29, 2010.
(Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

‘Making Enemies’ in Afghanistan (April 12, 2010)

“Death to America” (January 7, 2010)

Image: Afghanistan protesters
Thousands of Afghans protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 after a blast killed four Afghan children, a policeman and at least three American troops. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

“Death to Obama” (December 31, 2009)

Image: An effigy of President Obama is burned during a protest in Afghanistan
Protesters chant anti-American slogans and burn an effigy of President Barack Obama in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)

Afghan Support for U.S. Plummets (February 10, 2009)

Afghan Villagers Protest Raids (February 1, 2009)

Pakistanis Protest U.S. Airstrikes (January 27, 2009)

Supporters of the Pakistani Islamist party Jamat-e-Islami protest U.S. drone attacks in Karachi on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009. (Photo credit: Athar Hussain / Reuters)

Karzai: Stop Air-Raiding Civilians (November 5, 2008)

Image: Afghan men examine a destroyed house
Afghan men examine a house allegedly destroyed by U.S. airstrikes in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Nov. 5, 2008. (Photo credit: Humayoun Shiab / EPA)

Karzai Warns of Afghan Backlash (September 25, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — May 13, 2009

Dr. Maureen Reed speaks in St. Joseph, Minn., May 12, 2009 (Photo: Dave DeMars / St. Joseph Newsleader)
Dr. Maureen Reed speaks in St. Joseph, Minn., May 12, 2009.
(Photo: Dave DeMars / St. Joseph

Tinklenberg Challenger Speaks

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I summarized and evaluated remarks by Dr. Maureen Reed on May 12, 2009, at a special DFL Minnesota Senate District 14 meeting in St. Joseph, Minn. At the time, Reed was challenging 2008 Democratic candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg for the Democratic Party endorsement in the 2010 Sixth Congressional District race for U.S. Representative against incumbent Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann.

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