As the White House prepares to unveil a comprehensive plan of action for the strife-torn Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. must have an exit strategy in place for the land-locked country, a clear indication that he does not want troops to be bogged down there indefinitely, reports say.
There's got to be an exit strategy, he said in an interview Sunday on American television, adding: There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.
What we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy [for Afghanistan], he said, adding that it could include enhancing economic activities in that country and improving diplomatic ties with Pakistan and other regional players.
Stating that preventing attacks on the U.S. remained his central mission in Afghan operations, Obama stressed that Washington can't lose sight of what our central mission is.
Making sure that al-Qaida cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That's our number one priority, he said.
Obama's stance signaled a shift from his predecessor George Bush's broader policy of promoting democracy, civil society and governance in Afghanistan to that of getting that country to a point where it was not used as a base to resume attacks on the United States.
It also is pointer that the comprehensive policy review on Afghanistan will include an exit policy that will lead to the eventual withdrawal of American and NATO troops from that country.
Obama--who last month ordered the deployment of additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer, adding to the 36,000 already there--acknowledged that military force alone would not be enough to achieve Washington's objectives, which included the defeat of Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
He said the central task was the same as when the U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The President's comments came as concerns mounted over rising violence ahead of Afghan elections in August and with European officials speaking out openly about their plans to call back their contingents from Afghanistan in the next four years.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say an intense six-month campaign of CIA predator/drone strikes in Pakistan took such a toll on al-Qaida that the latter were seeing clear signs that the strikes were sowing distrust within al-Qaida and that the militants began turning violently on one another caused by confusion and distrust.
The pace of the drone attacks in northwest Pakistan has picked up since August, when the Bush administration discontinued seeking permission from the Pakistan government before launching these attacks.
Since August 31, the CIA carried out more than 38 predator strikes, compared to the 10 reported attacks in 2006 and 2007 combined, in what is believed to be the most expansive targeted killing program run by the CIA since the Vietnam War.
Encouraged by the campaign's success, the Obama administration is poised to continue it despite non-combatant casualties that fueled anti-American sentiment, and prompted protests from Pakistan's government.
A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official, tracking Al-Qaida's operations in northwest Pakistan, said the past year was very hard for the militants. They're losing a bunch of their better leaders, but more importantly, at this point, they're wondering who's next, the official added.
However, al-Qaida's two top leaders continue to remain as elusive as ever. U.S. spy agencies have not had reliable intelligence on the location of Osama bin Laden since he slipped across the Pakistan border seven years ago. Equally, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remains at large after surviving a missile strike in 2006.
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