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No 'sudden' changes in Afghan withdrawal: Obama

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday said there would be no "sudden" changes to the pace of troop drawdowns in Afghanistan, and told a weary US public the war was making "real progress."

world Updated: Mar 15, 2012 08:22 IST

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday said there would be no "sudden" changes to the pace of troop drawdowns in Afghanistan, and told a weary US public the war was making "real progress."

Obama, after talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said for the first time that Nato would go through with an agreed transition to a support role in Afghanistan next year before a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.

A string of recent incidents, including a massacre of Afghan civilians by a US soldier on Sunday, and deep public fatigue with the war, have prompted speculation that the pace of troop withdrawals could be speeded up.

But he said that his existing plan -- to bring home an additional 23,000 troops this summer -- still stood, and that future decisions would await the end of this year's operations against the Taliban.

"I don't anticipate at this stage that we're going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have," Obama said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama promised a "robust" coalition presence in Afghanistan during this year's fighting season to stop the Taliban regaining momentum.

The pace of the drawdown, and plans to transfer more responsibilities to Afghan authorities next year --- and what that will mean for future troop numbers -- will dominate the Nato summit in Chicago in May.

Both leaders insisted the painful sacrifices endured by both their militaries had been justified by the rout of al Qaeda, which had prevented terror plots against their countries.

And Obama took issue with commentary that the US Afghan war plan was unraveling and along with it hopes of leaving a functioning Afghanistan able to take care of its own security.

"If we maintain a steady, responsible transition process, which is what we've designed, then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security," said Obama.

"We have made progress."

Sunday's massacre of 16 Afghan civilians was the latest jolt to US hopes in Afghanistan, including the killing of allied troops by their Afghan comrades as well as the deaths of six young British soldiers last week in a bomb attack.

Cameron said while Afghanistan was "very difficult" -- the country was in a better state than it was a few years ago.

"I think what we're trying to do by the end of 2014 is achievable and doable," he said.

"We will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for Al-Qaeda to launch attacks against us."

Obama added: "We're going to complete this mission and we're going to do it responsibly," but with an eye on political conditions as he seeks reelection in November, he said he understood public weariness over the war.

"It's because we've been there for 10 years, and people get weary," he said.

"They know friends and neighbors who have lost loved ones as a consequence of war. No one wants war."

But he argued that people on both sides of the Atlantic understood that the war was launched over a decade ago to wipe out al Qaeda, which masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and was now weakened.

Obama and Cameron met just as US defense secretary Leon Panetta's visit to Afghanistan was marred by a security breach, when a stolen vehicle was driven onto a runway ramp as his plane was landing at a NATO base.

US officials insisted there was no sign the incident at Camp Bastion was an attempted attack on Panetta but the carjacking raised new questions over security and deepened the crisis atmosphere in the NATO-led war effort.

Due to recent incidents, also including riots after US troops burned Korans, the Afghan war has suddenly thrust itself back onto the political agenda, in a way that may be unwelcome for Obama as he seeks a second term.

On Tuesday, he sought to publicly calm outrage over the massacre, mostly of women and children, assuring Afghans he had demanded a full investigation and that the culprit would face the full force of the law.

The Pentagon said that the 38-year-old army sergeant alleged to have mounted the lone rampage which killed had been taken out of Afghanistan, but did not say where he was being held.

First Published: Mar 15, 2012 08:21 IST