Accessibility links

Obama Visits Wounded Soldiers, Consults on Afghanistan

President Barack Obama on Friday paid another visit to U.S. soldiers recovering from wounds suffered in conflicts overseas. The visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center came as Mr. Obama considers the size and pace of a U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan scheduled to start in July.

Friday's visit to Walter Reed was Mr. Obama's third there, his 10th overall to a military hospital.

He spent about 90 minutes at the facility. White House officials said he met with 21 wounded service members, 16 of whom served in Afghanistan, 5 in Iraq.

And as he has done on previous visits, he awarded Purple Hearts, the U.S. military's decoration given those who are wounded, or posthumously to those killed in battle.

The president's latest visit to the wounded comes amid opinion polls showing continuing falling support for the war in Afghanistan and concern about a spike in battlefield deaths, and as he approaches the next major decision in the country's longest war.

As part of the strategy he presented in 2009, Mr. Obama has committed to beginning a significant withdrawal next month of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. There are currently about 100,000 there, including 30,000 sent as part of a surge in 2009 to push back Taliban advances.

Though not on the official schedule, the White House revealed this week that Mr. Obama met with the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.

The White House has been tight-lipped about those discussions, and other contacts the president or members of his team are having with outside advisers as the decision point approaches.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was pressed again by reporters about the timing of Mr. Obama's decision. "Conversations continue, the president is consulting with members of his national security team, he will have a decision soon," Carney said.

Whether a decision comes this month, or at some point in July, it will be based as was his intensive review last year of Afghanistan - Pakistan policy, on a huge amount of advice from current as well as former or soon to be former civilian and military advisers.

This past week, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked about the unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan among Americans, and their impatience with it.

"This unhappiness, and certainly the war weariness after a decade, rests heavily on all of us I think. And the key is how do we complete our mission, as we have largely done in Iraq, in a way that protects American national security interests and the American people and contributes to stability," Gates said.

Gates said he believes the U.S. is on a path to accomplish this in Afghanistan, adding that the cost of foreign wars, while still huge, is on a declining path, especially given the NATO plan to shift security responsibilities to Afghan forces by 2014.

President Obama has no lack of advice from Capitol Hill, where recently Democratic Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and the panel's top Republican Richard Lugar, recently voiced some key concerns.

"While the United States has genuine national security interests in Afghanistan, our current commitment, in troops and in dollars, is neither proportional to our interests or sustainable in my judgment."

LUGAR: "Despite 10 years of investment and attempts to better understand the culture and the region's actors, we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress, but fails to deliver a secure political or military solution."

For a president known for careful, detailed consideration of issues, Mr. Obama's schedule is additional indication that his consultations about his Afghanistan troop drawdown decision may continue for at least another week.

The White House so far has the president down for "meetings at the White House" on Monday and Tuesday. But as always, that could change on a moment's notice if Mr. Obama feels he has had enough input to make a decision with confidence.