By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2010 – President Barack Obama today used the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States as a reminder of why U.S. forces still are in Afghanistan.
“We are there because that is the place that al-Qaida launched the attack that killed 3,000 Americans,” he said at a White House news conference. “We want to make sure we dismantle al-Qaida and that Afghanistan never again is used as a base for attacks against the United States.”
Obama said the day before the anniversary of the attacks is a good time to remind people of why U.S. forces still are in Afghanistan after nine years.
Although the U.S. military entered Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, Obama said, “seven years of drift” from the mission before he took office derailed progress. Now, he said, progress is being made in training Afghan security forces, promoting political settlements, encouraging the government to provide services, and reducing corruption.
The president said U.S. officials will continue to pressure Afghan leaders to root out corruption in their government, and will look within to ensure that the United States does not contribute to the problem by having on its payroll Afghans involved in corruption.
“We’re a long way from where we need to be,” the president said, but he noted that progress can be seen in the number of government officials Afghans have indicted for corruption. “We’re going to keep putting pressure on that front,” he said. “If we’re saying publicly that’s important, our actions have to match up across the board.”
Obama also said U.S. forces have not given up on capturing or killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Removing the two “would be extremely important to our national security” and is a priority for the administration, he said, but he added that “it doesn’t solve all our problems.”
The persistence of U.S. forces has made it harder for al-Qaida to operate, Obama said, noting that bin Laden “has gone deep underground.”
Still, Obama said, he is optimistic that bin Laden and Zawahiri will be captured or killed.
“We have the best minds, the best intelligence officers, the best Special Forces, who are thinking about this day and night,” he said. “And they will continue to think about this day and night as long as I am president.”