Conflict & Justice

President Obama's Afghanistan review

President Obama has said the US is �on track� to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, following publication of the US annual strategy review. The review said al-Qaeda's leadership was at its weakest since 2001 and it added that the US had made enough progress to start a 'responsible reduction' of forces in July 2011. Katy Clark reports.

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The White House had already released a five page summary of the classified evaluation. So the content of Thursday's review wasn't all that surprising.

It concludes that the surge is working, that US troops are making headway in reducing the Taliban's influence in southern Afghanistan and that, American forces can begin withdrawing on schedule next July.

But the President cautioned today that the war in Afghanistan remains �a difficult endeavor.� He also took the opportunity to remind Americans why US troops are fighting a war so far from home.

�It was Afghanistan where Al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered three thousand innocent people, Obama said. �It was the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies.�

President Obama added that if the insurgency in Afghanistan were left unchecked, Al Qaeda would have even more space in which to plan future attacks.

�We are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future,� Obama said. �In pursuit of our core goal, we are seeing significant progress.�

Obama said that Al Qaeda's senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure today than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago.

�It's harder for them to recruit, it's harder for them to travel, it's harder for them to train, it's harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, Al Qaeda is hunkered down.�

That said today's review acknowleges the challenges of making US gains against Al Qaeda and the Taliban �durable and sustainable.�

There are 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan at the moment working to ensure that that happens. The review says the majority of those troops won't be coming home until 2014. That's when the Afghan army is expected to take responsibility for the country's security.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today that progress on that front is ahead of schedule.

�Afghan troops are already responsible for security in Kabul and increasingly taking the lead in Kandahar where they make up more than 60 percent of the fighting forces,� Gates said. �They're performing well in partnership with coalition troops and will continue to improve with the right training, equipment and support.�

But that support may have its limits. This year has been the deadliest yet for American Forces with some 480 US casualties. And the Afghan war is now one of the longest wars in US history.

Some critics say that the Obama Administration is presenting an overly rosy view of progress in Afghanistan. Those critics include some Congressional Democrats who say it makes no sense to continue spending $100 billion dollars a year on a war that's un-winnable.