By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 26, 2009 - The overriding U.S. goal in Afghanistan is to dismantle the al Qaeda network , President Barack Obama said yesterday in Pittsburgh. Speaking at the closing press conference of the G-20 summit, Obama said the only reason the United States went into Afghanistan was because al Qaeda had killed 3,000 Americans and vowed to kill more. U.S. officials were not were interested in entering that country or positioning ourselves regionally, he said.
"My overriding goal is to dismantle the al Qaeda network, to destroy their capacity to inflict harm, not just on us but people of all faiths and all nationalities all around the world, and that is our overriding focus," he said.
"Stability in Afghanistan and in Pakistan are critical to that mission," he said, noting that U.S. officials are concerned about allegations of fraud in the recent election in Afghanistan.
"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government," he said. "If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult.If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult."
The United States and it's NATO allies are committed to the mission, he said, but it is time to review their strategy. "It's important that we examine our strategies to make sure that they actually can deliver on preventing al Qaeda from establishing safe havens," Obama said.
He pointed out that he initiated a review when he came into office. Before it was completed, he ordered 21,000 more troops into Afghanistan to make sure the Taliban did not disrupt the election.
"What I also said at the time," he added, "was that after the election, we are going to reassess our strategy, precisely because so much of our success has to be linked to the ability of the Afghan people themselves to provide for their own security, their own training, the Afghan government's ability to deliver services and opportunity and hope to their people."
Obama said he put in Army Gen.Stanley A. McChrystal as the new U.S. and NATO commander and asked him for an unvarnished assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. McChrystal delivered his assessment in late August.
Obama stressed that the coalition's "military strategy is only part of a broader project that has to include a civilian component, has to include a diplomatic component, and all those different factors are being weighed and considered at this point."
He said he will ultimately make this decision based on what will meet that core goal which is to dismantle, disrupt, and destroy the al Qaeda network.
Currently, some 68,000 U.S. servicemembers are deployed in Afghanistan, including 21,500 troops that have deployed since Obama announced the new Afghan strategy in March.
The president said he understands that the public is weary of the war in Afghanistan, "given that it comes on top of weariness about the war in Iraq.
"Every time we get a report of a young man or woman who's fallen in either of those theaters of war, it's a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice that they're making," he said. "I know that our partners in Afghanistan feel that same pain when they see their troops harmed."
Osaid he is asking some very tough questions, and he expects the public to the same.
"We're not going to arrive at perfect answers," he said. "I think anybody who's looked at the situation recognizes that it's difficult and it's complicated. But my solemn obligation is to make sure that I get the best answers possible, particularly before I make decisions about sending additional troops into the theater."