/ 10 February 2009

Obama sends warning to al-Qaeda, Taliban

President Barack Obama vowed to prevent al-Qaeda from operating ”with impunity” in Afghanistan and urged a combined effort to eradicate safe havens for the Taliban and other militants there.

As Washington launches a review of US policy in Afghanistan, Obama said Afghanistan’s national government ”seems very detached from what’s going on in the surrounding community”.

In his first press conference on Monday, Obama pointed to Taliban and al-Qaeda militants operating in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

”What we haven’t seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that ultimately makes our mission successful,” Obama said.

”We are going to need more effective coordination with our military efforts with diplomatic efforts, with development efforts, with more effective coordination with our allies in order for us to be successful,” he said.

”I do not have a timetable for how long that’s going to take. What I know is I’m not going to allow al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden to operate with impunity attacking the US,” he said.

”My bottom line is that we cannot allow al-Qaeda to operate, we cannot have safe havens in that region. And we’re going to have to work both smartly and with consistency,” Obama said.

In an editorial published on Tuesday, Senator John Kerry, who serves as chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed the president’s line.

”The United States is not in Afghanistan to make it our 51st state — but to make sure it does not become an Al-Qaeda narco-state and terrorist beachhead capable of destabilising neighbouring Pakistan,” Kerry wrote in the Washington Post.

Kerry stressed that the mission there was a ”race against time” in a region that has never been welcoming to lingering foreign interests.

He stressed that the United States needed more help from allies and a renewed focus on reconstruction.

”Our Nato allies have to shoulder a bigger burden, and we should continue to seek more combat troops with fewer restrictions,” he said.

The Obama administration has said it is carrying out a review of strategy in Afghanistan as Taliban militants challenge the Kabul government for control of the south and the east of the country.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates and other officials have signalled any new strategy would likely abandon the ambitious goals of the previous administration — to forge a democracy in the war-torn and impoverished country.

The chairperson of the US joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division that the military’s focus had switched to Afghanistan.

”It’s gotten worse in Afghanistan. Violence is up. The Taliban is back. More than anything else there’s a governance issue which is not going well,” he said.

The admiral said while he anticipated more troops would be sent to Afghanistan, it was unlikely the force would surpass a total of about 66 000 — nearly double the roughly 36 000 now deployed there.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was to meet key leaders in Islamabad on Tuesday as part of the major US policy review aimed at turning around the war against insurgents in South Asia.

Obama has called Afghanistan the main front in the ”war on terror” and plans to send a further 30 000 troops there, doubling the US contingent fighting a Taliban-led insurgency along with Nato forces. –AFP