President Barack Obama says stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "critical" to U.S. and allied goals in the region, and that if the disputed Afghan presidential election does not result in a credible government in Kabul the job will be much more difficult.
As the president leads a review of his Afghanistan strategy, following a grim assessment by his new commander there, he says his goals have not changed. He told reporters at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh he still wants to "dismantle, disrupt and destroy" the al-Qaida terrorist network and end its ability to attack people all over the world.
In recent weeks, some experts have suggested that can be done without sending more forces, as the new U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, wants. McChrystal submitted his formal request to senior commanders Friday, but it was not made public.
The president did not pre-judge the outcome of the strategy review or his eventual decision on troop deployments, but he did say a military, civilian and diplomatic effort is necessary, and stability is key. "Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan are critical to that mission. And after several years of drift in Afghanistan, we now find ourselves in a situation in which you have strong commitments from the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) coalition, our NATO allies, all of them are committed to making this work," he said.
Counterinsurgency experts say the coalition needs more troops in Afghanistan to provide security, train Afghan forces and help the Afghan government convince more people to support it, rather than supporting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
President Obama said the allied effort is linked to the Afghan government's ability to provide security and services to its own people. He said allegations of fraud in the recent Afghan presidential election are "of concern," and he is waiting for the final results and the reports from Afghan and international monitors.
"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan, among the Afghan people, for their government. If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult," he said.
The president called General McChrystal's assessment "unvarnished." The secret document was published Monday in the Washington Post. It paints a mostly grim picture of Taliban advances, and says the U.S. and NATO effort faces possible failure if he does not get more resources.
But President Obama says the military assessment is only part of the broad strategy review he is conducting. "I will ultimately make this decision base on what will meet that core goal that I set at the beginning, which is to dismantle, disrupt and destroy the al-Qaida network. We're not going to arrive at perfect answers. I think anybody who has looked at it recognizes that it's difficult and it's complicated. But my solemn obligation is to make sure that I get the best answers possible, particularly before I make decisions about sending additional troops," he said.
The president said he can understand why some Americans are weary of the war in Afghanistan, particularly as the long war in Iraq also continues. He said he would expect people to ask tough questions about the course of the Afghanistan effort, and that is what he is doing.