President Barack Obama won a fresh promise from the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan on Wednesday to work together to defeat Al Qaeda, and vowed he would make “every effort” to avoid civilian deaths.
Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s Asif Ali Zardari came to Washington after heavy criticism of their efforts to combat a Taliban resurgence in their countries.
After their talks Obama said both men “fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat” posed by Al Qaeda and its allies.
Despite the warm words, the deaths of dozens of Afghan civilians this week, possibly in US-led air strikes, cast a shadow on the talks.
“The road ahead will be difficult. There will be more violence and there will be setbacks,” Obama said, with Karzai and Zardari at his side in the Grand Foyer of the White House.
“But let me be clear — the US has made a lasting commitment to defeat Al Qaeda but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waiver and that support will be sustained.”
Obama announced a new approach to the fight against al Qaeda in both countries in late March, offering more aid but also more than 20,000 extra troops to Afghanistan this year.
“We turned a corner,” Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said after Obama’s brief address. “We gave physical reality to the strategic plan.”