Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Obama ponders Afghan 'exit plan'

US President Barack Obama. File photo
President Obama said Afghanistan would be "a tough nut to crack"

President Barack Obama has said that the US must have an "exit strategy" in Afghanistan, even as Washington sends more troops to fight Taleban militants.

He was speaking in a CBS interview, as the White House prepares to unveil a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan.

Mr Obama said preventing attacks against the US remained its "central mission" in Afghan operations.

The government of Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said it welcomed the US review but warned against any "quick fixes".

Correspondents say the review comes at a particularly low point in relations between Washington and President Karzai's government.


Earlier, Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said US policy would no longer treat the two countries separately.

Making sure that al-Qaeda cannot attack the US homeland and US interests and our allies. That's our number one priority
US President Barack Obama

"In the past, the United States government stove-piped it, they had an Afghan policy and a Pakistan policy. We have to integrate the two and I hope the rest of the world will join us in that effort," he told the BBC.

Mr Holbrooke said Taleban sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border were the primary problem for Kabul.

He also said that the era of "neglect" of the region was over, promising more troops and resources.

In other news from Afghanistan:

• Eight police officers are killed and one wounded after Taleban fighters ambush their convoy in the Spin Boldak district of the southern province of Kandahar

• Nato says its forces killed senior Taleban commander Maulawi Hassan and nine associates in an operation in Helmand province on Saturday

• Senior Afghan militant Sirajuddin Haqqani tells Reuters news agency attempts by the Afghan government to open peace talks with insurgents are a trick to divide militants

'Effective strategy'

"What we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy [for Afghanistan]," President Obama told the CBS programme 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Richard Holbrooke: "Neglect was what happened in the past - that era is over"

"Threre's got to be an exit strategy. There's got to be a sense that this is not a perpetual drift."

Mr Obama - who last month ordered the deployment of an additional 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan - acknowledged that military force alone would not be enough to achieve Washington's objectives, which included the defeat of Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

He said an effective strategy could include building up economic capacity in Afghanistan and improving diplomatic ties with Pakistan and other regional players.

But Mr Obama stressed that Washington "can't lose sight of what our central mission is".

"Making sure that al-Qaeda cannot attack the US homeland and US interests and our allies. That's our number one priority."

He said the central task was the same as when US troops went into Afghanistan after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

After eight years of killing the only sustainable exit strategy is massive investment in social infrastructure, schools, hospitals, water, electricity and employment
Tim Lumb, UK

According to the British-based Guardian newspaper, the White House review has proposed creating a new senior executive or prime ministerial role in Kabul to work alongside President Karzai and dilute some of his power.

"Karzai is not delivering," a diplomat with knowledge of the review told the newspaper.

"If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says a spokesman for the Karzai government welcomed Washington's move to provide additional troops and resources as part of its review.

But the spokesman warned against "quick fixes" and said that the US call to focus more on the Pakistani side of the border was "at least seven years too late".

The spokesman also dismissed any move to plant a high-profile figure in the government to circumvent President Karzai, saying it was up to the Afghan people to decide on their own future.

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