Obama, Karzai present a united front
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday predicted more hardship and sacrifice for both countries' troops but also reaffirmed their faith that the civil and military strategy they’ve laid out will ultimately be successful.
“There are many difficult days ahead in Afghanistan,” Obama said at the joint White House news conference. “We face a determined and ruthless enemy, but we go forward with confidence ... because we have the courage and resolve of men and women from Afghanistan and the international coalition who are determined to help the Afghans reach a better future.”
Obama said coalition troops are taking unprecedented steps to minimize civilian casualties — “something our enemies do not do.”
“When there is a civilian casualty, that is not just a political problem for me,” he said. “I am ultimately accountable ... for somebody not on the battlefield who got killed. And that’s something I have to carry with me, and something anyone involved in that military operation has to carry with them. We do not take that lightly.”
On Tuesday, as part of his first visit to the U.S. since his re-election last year, Karzai traveled to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with wounded U.S. troops, an experience he called emotional and inspirational.
“It was a very difficult moment for me, to meet with a young man who lost two arms and legs,” he said. “It was heart rending. And it shows the commitment the U.S. has made to Afghanistan.”
Both leaders also said they are confident the U.S. forces will begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July 2011, a target set by Obama last fall. But the U.S. president said that date will not mark the end of American involvement there.
Since December, nearly 15,000 additional U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan, and the total number of troops there is expected to swell to nearly 100,000 by the end of the summer. Officials are planning new military and diplomatic operations in the country’s south in coming weeks to root out existing Taliban and al-Qaida strongholds.
Karzai noted that his delegation’s meetings in Washington this week have also emphasized the need for non-military solutions, such as reconstruction and reconciliation.
His administration has planned a peace conference in Kabul for later this month and will consider inviting Taliban fighters — those without an ideological fervor — to lay down their arms and participate in the political process.
Obama endorsed the idea, but noted that its success depends on “our effectiveness in breaking [Taliban] momentum militarily,” and he suggested that U.S. troops will face heavy fighting in the months ahead.