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Obama Urges U.S. To Shift Focus From Iraq To Afghanistan

Barack Obama speaking in AmmanBarack Obama speaking in Amman
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Barack Obama speaking in Amman
Barack Obama speaking in Amman
By RFE/RL
Barack Obama, the presumed U.S. presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, summed up his visits to Afghanistan and Iraq by saying it's time to shift the United States' military attention away from Iraq and focus it on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking in Jordan on July 22, where he continued his major overseas trip, Obama said that with improved security in Iraq, he believes it's vital for Washington to shift some forces to Afghanistan, the site of the United States' first military offensive against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"We went to Afghanistan first because it is the central front in the war against terrorism," Obama said. "That is where the 9/11 attacks were planned and today in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are mounting a growing offensive against the security of the Afghan people and, increasingly, the Pakistani people, while plotting new attacks against the United States."

Obama has proposed that if he's elected president, he would withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his inauguration in January 2009, leaving behind only enough to train Iraqi forces, counter Al-Qaeda attacks, and protect civilian operations. There are now nearly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Two Additional U.S. Brigades

At an outdoor news conference atop the Amman Citadel overlooking the Jordanian capital, Obama said U.S. commanders in Afghanistan told him that two U.S. brigades -- about 10,000 troops -- would help them fight the resurgent Taliban there.

"The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent," Obama said. "We must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation. I called, over a year ago, for additional U.S. troops to be placed in Afghanistan, as well as more nonmilitary assistance and more support from our NATO allies, and I am glad that there is a growing consensus back home that we need more resources in Afghanistan."

Obama said Afghanistan's border with Pakistan is "porous" and allows militants who have trained in Pakistan's lawless frontier region to infiltrate Afghanistan and launch attacks on NATO and Afghan forces, then return to the safety of their bases in Pakistan.

The United States needs to put pressure on Pakistan to get better control over its border region, Obama said, but he also said Afghanistan needs to reform itself if it is to develop into a healthy democracy. He said he made that point in a meeting with the country's leadership in Kabul.

"In our meetings with President [Hamid] Karzai and the other Afghan leaders," Obama said, "I stressed my strong commitment to Afghanistan's security and economic development and urged them to work on a 'more-for-more' basis" -- more U.S. and NATO support for Afghanistan and more action by the Afghan government to take on corruption and counternarcotics, and to improve the rule of law and to make sure that resources and services are actually delivered for the Afghan people."

At the news conference -- which also attended by two fellow U.S. senators, Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Chuck Hagel (Republican, Nebraska) -- Obama said the United States can now afford to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan.

But Obama said the Iraqi government must also take advantage of the improved security to make political progress by bringing more Sunni Muslims into a government that is now dominated by Shi'ite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country.

Obama said his talks with U.S. military commanders in Iraq have convinced him that his withdrawal timeline of 16 months remains realistic. And while Iraqi political leaders didn't endorse his plan explicitly, they called for an end to the U.S. military presence in their country in terms that parallel Obama's.

'Growing Consensus'

Obama said that's what the American people want as well, and he noted that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has recently called for something similar, referring to a vaguer "time horizon" for withdrawals.

"I believe that the best way to support Iraqi sovereignty and encourage the Iraqis to stand up is through the responsible redeployment of our combat brigades," Obama said. "I welcome the growing consensus in the United States and Iraq for a timeline. My view, based on the advice of military experts, is that we can redeploy safely in 16 months so that our combat brigades are out of Iraq in 2010."

During his two-day visit to Iraq, Obama toured Al-Anbar Governorate, west of Baghdad, where the Sunni insurgency, allied with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, began shortly after U.S.-led forces deposed Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq.

The Sunnis of Al-Anbar now have turned on Al-Qaeda and are allied with the Americans. On July 21, Obama met with the province's leaders to discuss their fight against Al-Qaeda and their demand for greater Sunni representation in the Iraqi government.

Obama has visited Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq on his tour thus far. After Jordan, he's visiting Israel, Germany, Britain, and France.

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