President Barack Obama says he has no deadline for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan and is pledging there will not be an indefinite American occupation. Sounding much like his predecessor, Obama said he won't base any war decision on "the politics of the moment."
The 8-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, overshadowed by the war in Iraq during much of George W Bush's presidency, is a dominant challenge for Obama. The American public and leaders of his own party have eroding faith in the face of a resurgent Taliban, doubts of Afghan leadership and rising US engagement.
"I don't have a deadline for withdrawal," Obama said in one of a series of television interviews broadcast Sunday. "But I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries."
Obama has ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, increasing the number of US forces there to 68,000, and is expecting to get a request for more troops from the US and NATO commander. Obama said the decision is more than the inclination of "If I get more, then I can do more."
"Right now, the question is, the first question is, are we doing the right thing?" he said. "Are we pursuing the right strategy? Obama has pledged no imminent decision on sending in more troops and says he wants to see updated reviews on all aspects of his war strategy. His road map to winning the war in Afghanistan relies heavily on clearing al-Qaida terrorists from Pakistan, according to a list of benchmarks given to Congress last week.
Obama said once he hears from advisers and has a better idea on whether more troops are needed, then "what I will say to the American public is not going to be driven by the politics of the moment." Bush often used similar language when overseeing a war in Iraq that had lost support of much of the public. The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama should follow the military's advice.
McConnell said General David Petraeus, who now heads Central Command, "did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he's doing. General McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well."
On a related front, Obama said having a focused war strategy will help with the hunt for the elusive Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks. Bin Laden and other senior al-Qaida leaders are presumed to be hiding in a mountainous region of Pakistan where the US-backed government in Islamabad has little control.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is under political fire at home for his disputed re-election. Allegations of large-scale ballot stuffing, phantom polling stations and turnouts above 100 percent in some areas threaten to undermine the credibility of his election just when the US needs his country to take more control.
Obama declined to comment on the validity of Karzai's election "until after everything has been certified," noting that investigations of fraud are under way.
Obama made the comments to NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN's "State of the Union" in interviews taped on Friday at the White House.