Review: Afghan Progress Is 'Fragile And Reversible'
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The latest White House review of the war in Afghanistan paints a sober picture. There has been progress, but that progress is, in the administration's words, fragile and reversible. The report remains classified, but a five-page summary was made public today. President Obama presented the review, along with the secretaries of State and Defense.
NPR's Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: The additional 30,000 troops that the president ordered a year ago are now in Afghanistan. And today Mr. Obama said his review shows that his surge is getting results.
President BARACK OBAMA: I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
LIASSON: Those goals, the president said, are not to remove every threat to security in Afghanistan, but rather to disrupt, dismantle and degrade the ability of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan to threaten the U.S. He said the imposition of his controversial schedule, with withdrawal of some U.S. troops in July of 2011, has helped in the recruitment of Afghan forces.
Pres. OBAMA: This sense of urgency also helped galvanize the coalition around the goals that we agreed to at the recent NATO summit in Lisbon. That we are moving toward a new phase in Afghanistan, a transition to full Afghan lead for security that will begin early next year and will conclude in 2014, even as NATO maintains a long-term commitment to training and advising Afghan forces.
LIASSON: It was clear from the report that military progress has not been matched by progress in building up the Afghan civilian government or in shutting down the safe havens for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters across the border in Pakistan.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued that the Pakistanis are being more helpful. When we came into office, she said, they had made a peace agreement with the Taliban.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We pointed out firmly that this was not a strategy that would work for them. And, in fact, we had very strong objections to it because it would provide greater and greater territory for al-Qaida and their allies to operate in. So, what happened? The Pakistanis took an entirely different approach. They moved, what, 140,000 troops off the Indian border? They waged an ongoing conflict against their enemies, who happen also to be the allies of our enemies.
LIASSON: Defense Secretary Robert Gates also stressed that progress on the Pakistani side of the border has been real, if incomplete.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): We believe the Pakistanis can and must do more to shut down the flow of insurgents across the border. It is important to remember that these kinds of military operations in the tribal areas would've been considered unthinkable just two years ago.
LIASSON: The president described al-Qaida as a ruthless resilient enemy, but said the U.S. will be relentless in its efforts to fight it. Mr. Obama, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton all went out of their way to say they had no rosy scenarios, that their assessment was realistic about the prospects for success.
Polls show the Afghanistan War is now opposed by majorities in almost every country that sent troops, including the U.S. Dozens were arrested today outside the White House protesting the war. But Secretary Gates made it clear the war is not about to end and that the decision to escalate a year ago was not revisited in the current review.
Sec. GATES: The whole purpose of this review was not to relitigate the entire strategy, but rather to say, how's it going? And where is it going as well or better than we like but where is it not? And then so we can focus our attention and our resources on addressing those shortcomings.
LIASSON: So for the White House the basic question of whether it's worth fighting in Afghanistan remains, at least for now, a settled matter.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.
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