As the President took to the podium to discuss the Afghanistan-Pakistan Annual Review released today, he thanked all involved in the effort -- from Defense Secretary Gates of Secretary of State Clinton to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, as well as the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He saved his most sincere respect for our troops, however, saying, "There are more difficult days ahead. But as a nation, we can draw strength from the service of our fellow Americans. On my recent visit to Afghanistan, I visited a medical unit and pinned Purple Hearts on some of our wounded warriors. I met with a platoon that had just lost six of their teammates. Despite the tough fight, despite all their sacrifice, they continue to stand up for our security and for our values that we hold so dear." During their briefing afterwards Secretary Gates and Secrtary Clinton echoed those sentiments.
From the outset of his discussion of the report, he leveled with the American people:
I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
It’s important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks.
And that’s why, from the start, I’ve been very clear about our core goal. It’s not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it’s not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress. Today, al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It’s harder for them to recruit; it’s harder for them to travel; it’s harder for them to train; it’s harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake -- we are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.
In Afghanistan, we remain focused on the three areas of our strategy: our military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead; our civilian effort to promote effective governance and development; and regional cooperation, especially with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border.
Indeed, for the first time in years, we’ve put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand. And because we’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, and brought home nearly 100,000 of our troops from Iraq, we’re in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and equipment they need to achieve their missions. And our drawdown in Iraq also means that today there are tens of thousands fewer Americans deployed in harm’s way than when I took office.
With those additional forces in Afghanistan, we are making considerable gains toward our military objectives. The additional military and civilian personnel that I ordered in Afghanistan are now in place, along with additional forces from our coalition, which has grown to 49 nations. Along with our Afghan partners, we’ve gone on the offensive, targeting the Taliban and its leaders and pushing them out of their strongholds.
After discussing each of those areas in more depth, he closed with a simple message:
We’re going to have to continue to stand up. We’ll continue to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed. We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda. We will forge enduring partnerships with people who are committed to progress and to peace. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the security and the safety of the American people.