President Barack Obama is reviewing U.S. policies in Afghanistan, where he says efforts to build democracy are not going as well as those in Iraq. Mr. Obama also addressed the al-Qaida and Taliban threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, during his first news conference since taking office.
President Obama calls the situation in Afghanistan a "big challenge," and says progress toward democracy there is lagging behind that in Iraq.
He said, "We just saw an election in Iraq that went relatively peacefully and you get a sense that the political system is now functioning in a meaningful way. You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They have got elections coming up, but, effectively, the national government seems very detached from what is going on in the surrounding community."
'Terrorist Safe-Havens Must Go'
In a nationally televised news conference, the president also said terrorist safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border must be eliminated. As part of his review, he says he will assess American and multinational diplomatic, economic and military efforts to cooperate toward that end.
The president said, "In addition, you have got the Taliban and al-Qaida operating in the FATA (Federally Administered Areas of Pakistan) and these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what we have not seen is the kind of concerted effort to root out those safe havens that would ultimately make our mission successful."
US Envoy In Region
The United States has an estimated 33,000 troops in Afghanistan and that number is expected to almost double. Mr. Obama says he does not have a timetable for winning the war in Afghanistan, but he says defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban is as important for Pakistan as it is for the United States. "It is not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks who, with impunity, will kill innocent men, women and children," he said.
The president has sent his special South Asian envoy, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke, to the region, partly to strengthen the U.S. alliance with the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari. At his news conference, Mr. Obama said the United States must make sure that Pakistan is "a stalwart ally" in battling the terrorist threat.