By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
April 29, 2009 - Taliban and al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose "the single most direct threat" to U.S. national security interests, President Barack Obama said today during a town hall meeting at Fox High School in Arnold, Mo. His decision to send additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan did not receive a warm reception, the president acknowledged.
"But as commander in chief, it is my responsibility to make sure that [al-Qaida leader Osama] bin Laden and his cronies are not able to create a safe haven within which they can kill another 3,000 Americans or more," he said. The effort requires a new strategy that includes not only military action, but also diplomacy and development, the president added.
The new strategy will help the United States become secure and its global leadership role has been restored, Obama said. In addition to a ramp-down of U.S. military presence in Iraq and a renewed emphasis on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he explained, the strategy includes renewed diplomacy to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama said he took those actions because America is stronger than any enemy and always has been, and "because we do what's right, not just when it's easy, but when it's hard."
"That's what sets us apart," he said.
The president told the students and faculty that the drawdown in Iraq will proceed responsibly.
"We are doing it in a careful way, because we don't want the country to collapse," he said. "That would not be in our strategic interests. There's been recent flare-ups of violence in Iraq that are highly sensationalized, and that indicates the degree to which this is a ramp-down that is conducted over the course of 18 months. I think that's the right thing to do."