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July 04, 2011

Obama Meets With New Afghanistan Team, Defense Secretary

by Dan Robinson

President Barack Obama discussed the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan with the new U.S. commander and new U.S. ambassador who will be implementing his civilian and military strategy.  The president's day also included a meeting with new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Lieutenant General John Allen, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will be the new faces of a U.S. military and civilian effort in Afghanistan that has lasted a decade.

General Allen takes over leadership of the U.S. and NATO command, replacing General David Petraeus who the U.S. Senate confirmed last week in a 94 to 0 vote to head the CIA.

In a White House ceremony last April, Allen had this to say about being chosen by the president as the new U.S. Afghanistan commander.

"Sir, I am mindful of the significance of this responsibility and I am deeply committed to the leadership of the magnificent young men and women of our armed forces, and those of the armed forces of this great and historic coalition of nations," said General Allen.

On Tuesday, General Allen and Ambassador Crocker sat down with Mr. Obama in the Oval Office.   Also present were new Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Vice President Joe Biden.

The White House did not provide media access, though it issued a photograph of the meeting  Press Secretary Jay Carney read from a formal statement.

"The President and his team discussed implementation of the next phase of our strategy in Afghanistan, including consolidation of the gains that have been made in breaking the Taliban’s momentum and training Afghan Security Forces; the reduction of U.S. troop levels that the President announced last month; and the process of transitioning lead security responsibility to the Afghan government," said Carney.

President Obama announced last month that 10,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, with another 23,000 to depart by September of 2012.

He said the withdrawal of the "surge" force sent in between 2009 and 2010 to counter Taliban advances, was made possible by significant progress made on the ground against, and in training Afghan government forces.

In remarks to reporters in Kabul this past weekend, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham reiterated concerns that the U.S. drawdown will send the wrong signal to the Afghan people about U.S. commitment.

"What I am mostly concerned about is that the accelerated withdrawal of surge forces has created a perception that we are leaving," said Senator Graham.

Asked about such concerns, Jay Carney said the administration believes it has addressed the issue, and the president feels strongly about progress made in stopping Taliban momentum, training Afghan forces, and disrupting, dismantling and ultimately defeating al-Qaida.

The president also met separately with Secretary Panetta, who as CIA director played a key role in the planning and intelligence gathering that led to the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in May.

As the White House talks took place on Tuesday, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan confirmed the latest battlefield deaths - four soldiers killed in separate attacks in the east of the country.

Two hundred eighty ISAF members have been killed so far this year.  As of Tuesday, U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 stood at 1,542 since the U.S. invasion following the 2001 al-Qaida led terrorist attacks on the United States.

In an interview with news organizations in Kabul, General Petraeus said the focus of U.S. and NATO military efforts against Taliban forces in coming months will shift from the south of Afghanistan to the eastern border with Pakistan.