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Obama says no 'long-term' Afghan presence

world Updated: Feb 28, 2009 16:00 IST

AFP
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The United States has no desire for a "long-term" military presence in Afghanistan despite plans to send more troops to the war-torn country, President Barack Obama said on Friday.

"One of the things that I think we have to communicate in Afghanistan is that we have no interest or aspiration to be there over the long term," Obama said in an interview with PBS public television.

"There's a long history, as you know, in Afghanistan of rebuffing what is seen as an occupying force and we have to be mindful of that history as we think about our strategy," he said.

Obama, who earlier on Friday announced an end to US combat operations in Iraq within 18 months, has vowed a new focus on fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The new president has ordered another 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan and is conducting a review of policy in the region.

Obama, who opposed his predecessor George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, defended the US involvement in Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda extremists who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks were holed up.

Obama said he believed the US commitment to Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest nations, should involve more than military force.

"Our bottom goal in the region is to keep the American people safe," Obama said.

But he declined to set a timeline on when US troops would exit Afghanistan.

"Until we have a clear strategy, we're not going to have a clear exit strategy," he said.

"My goal is to get US troops home as quickly as possible without leaving a situation that allows for potential terrorist attacks against the United States," Obama said.

Some left-wing critics have questioned the extra deployment to Afghanistan, fearing that the United States would get bogged down in an escalating conflict similar to Vietnam.

The Obama administration this week convened a three-way meeting with the Afghan and Pakistani foreign ministers as part of a review on how to move forward in the "war on terror."