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Obama Says US Must Focus on Threats in Afghanistan


Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has repeated a call for more US troops and greater funding for Afghanistan as part of his plan to overhaul America's war on terrorism. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington, Senator Obama spoke after meeting with Afghanistan's president in Kabul. Later, Obama has met the leader of Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah on the latest leg of his overseas tour.

Barack Obama concluded a two-day visit to Afghanistan Sunday, the first major stop in a lengthy trip that will also take the senator to Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Europe. Before departing Kabul, he spoke on the CBS television network, which aired the interview on the US domestic program Face the Nation.

Obama said the government of President Hamid Karzai must do more to confront terrorist elements in Afghanistan, but said the United States also has a critical role to play.

"The situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan, and I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front in our battle against terrorism," said Barack Obama.

The Illinois senator has been a harsh critic of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, saying the true terrorist threat facing America is based, not in Baghdad, but in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan's northern regions.

"That global network is centered in this area, and I think one of the biggest mistakes we [the United States] have made, strategically, after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here," he said. "We got distracted by Iraq. And now we have a chance to correct some of those errors."

A spokesman for the Karzai government says, during a private meeting with the Afghan leader, Obama expressed his commitment to supporting Afghanistan and to continue the war on terrorism "with vigor."

In the CBS interview, Obama said, as president, he would boost US troop levels and US assistance to Afghanistan, and also increase aid to Pakistan.

Recent months have seen widespread reports of a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. But, speaking on Fox News Sunday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, disputed any notion that Afghanistan is in danger of collapse.

"I would say the progress is mixed there, but I am not concerned at all that we are losing in Afghanistan," said Admiral Mullen.

Obama's critics do not fault the senator for urging a stronger US troop presence in Afghanistan. But independent Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who is backing Obama's Republican rival, Senator John McCain, says Obama is misguided in calling for a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq.

"You cannot choose, as Senator Obama seems to think, to lose in Iraq so you can win in Afghanistan," said Joseph Lieberman. "The reality is, if we had lost in Iraq, we would go to Afghanistan as losers."

Lieberman was speaking on Fox News Sunday.

Also appearing on the program was Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, an Obama ally. Bayh said Obama has a proven track record of good judgment when it comes to Iraq that should give Americans confidence about his vision for Afghanistan.

"I think it is important to note that Barack Obama's judgment about these issues has been excellent from the beginning, the kind of judgment you would want from a commander-in-chief, and others are beginning to adopt his positions," said Evan Bayh. "We would not be discussing surges in Iraq or anything else if Barack had had his way. We would not have started that war to begin with."

Obama has said that setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq will provide added impetus for the country's fractured leadership to forge the national reconciliation needed for long term stability. He has said America's military is already stretched thin and overburdened, and cannot undertake expanded operations in Afghanistan while fully deployed in Iraq.