Obama Urges Increase in U.S. Forces in Afghanistan on 'Face the Nation'
By Dan Balz
Calling the situation in Afghanistan "precarious and urgent," Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama urged the Bush administration Sunday to begin building up U.S. forces there to combat the growing strength of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
In his first interview since arriving in Afghanistan on Saturday, Obama said on CBS's "Face The Nation" that conditions now warrant reducing the number of troops in Iraq and shifting them to Afghanistan.
"I think we have to seize that opportunity. Now's the time for us to do it," Obama said. "If we wait until the next administration, it could be a year before we get those additional troops on the ground here in Afghanistan and I think that would be a mistake. I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we've got to start doing something now."
Obama sought to use his time in Afghanistan to underscore his criticism that the Iraq war has distracted the United States, repeating his belief that the Bush administration had made a key mistake in failing "to finish the job here."
Obama said the goal of U.S. policy should be a stable Afghanistan and the disabling of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. "Losing is not an option when it comes to al-Qaeda and it never has been," he said, "and that's why the fact that we engaged in a war of choice when we were not yet finished with that task was such a mistake."
President Bush suggested last week that he was open to sending more troops to Afghanistan, but made no commitment to doing so. In a press conference at the White House Tuesday, Bush said his administration was already in the midst of sending 3,000 U.S. troops to the country and noted that NATO allies had pledged more as well.
Bush also acknowledged that Afghanistan was a "tough fight," and said the war there was going worse than in Iraq.
The debate over Afghanistan comes amid growing demands from Pentagon generals for extra forces to fight a worsening Taliban-led insurgency.
On his second day in Afghanistan, Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His itinerary is expected to include a visit to Iraq along with previously announced visits to Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Great Britain.
Obama's campaign announced Sunday morning that in Berlin he will speak at the Victory Column in Tiergarten park. The Obama campaign considered holding what is expected to be his largest event of the trip at the famous Brandenburg Gate, which drew criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others.
In his "Face The Nation" appearance, Obama said only a regional approach will solve the problems now faced by Afghanistan and in particular called for tougher measures to pressure the Pakistani government to help wipe out terrorist sanctuaries and training camps.
He said the U.S. supplies enough military and other assistance to Pakistan to warrant sending a stronger message about cooperating in the fight against terrorists and said that message "has not been sent" by the current administration. "I will push Pakistan very hard," he said.
Obama also said there would be "enormous symbolic value" in capturing or killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden but added, "I don't think that by itself is sufficient" to consider the job done.
Addressing question about whether his overseas trip is aimed at alleviating doubts about his foreign policy experience, Obama said his goal is to get to know the world leaders he might be dealing with if he becomes president.
"One of the shifts in foreign policy that I want to execute as president is giving the world a clear message that America intends to continue to show leadership but our style of leadership is going to be less unilateral," he said.
Posted at 11:41 AM ET on Jul 20, 2008
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