WASHINGTON: The White House is looking at its future counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, one in cooperation with Pakistan, that curbs al Qaeda and helps meet the challenge to contain terrorism in the broader region, a senior US official said as President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to American troops in Afghanistan.
“We have been looking broadly at counterterrorism and how do you have a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan, in South Asia, in cooperation with Pakistan that keeps al Qaeda core on its heels, but also how does it fit into the broader counterterrorism challenge across the entire region all the way to North Africa,” Deputy White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said. Obama is visiting Afghanistan to express support for American troops on the occasion of Memorial Day in the middle of the year, which will see an end to Afghan war and transition the US. engagement with Afghanistan and the region.
Rhodes comments came in response to a question, when during a briefing on route to Afghanistan, he was asked about the Obama administration’s current thinking on the post-2014 size of American troops that might stay in Afghanistan to help Afghan security forces in counterterrorism. “That’s precisely the question that we’re looking at. And we’ve had a range of options for the type of presence that we would maintain in Afghanistan after 2014. I think the important principles there are we’re focused on missions, and the principal missions are the two that the president has identified publicly, which are continued training of the Afghan National Security Forces and supporting their counterterrorism operations.”
He said that “in all cases, our combat mission here in Afghanistan would come to a conclusion at the end of 2014 consistent with our transition plan. Now, there are a range of different force structures that could accomplish those objectives. We’re looking into questions not just about the size of that force, but how long you sustain any potential troop presence after 2014. So those are the types of questions the President is looking at. The main thing for us is how can we help the Afghan security forces sustain their own capability to be in the lead for security – so what type of support are they going to need after 2014. We’ve been looking very closely at those questions.”
Rhodes indicated that President Obama would be discussing the strategy for Afghanistan in a speech next Wednesday at West Point in New York. On President Obama’s trip, he said it is a troop-focused visit. “We are mindful that it’s a political season in Afghanistan, and I think that accounts for the fact that we’re focusing our visit on Bagram. We don’t want to get into the middle of election season meeting with candidates and that type of thing. So it’s a good time for the troops to hear from the president, and also for the Afghan people to know that no matter what happens in the election, that we have an enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan and that, frankly, both candidates who are in the run-off have spoken very positively about the US.-Afghan partnership, as well as the prospects for a BSA (Bilateral Security Agreement).”
He said it was actually important for President Obama to come – before he articulates a decision – to get that chance to sit down face-to-face with the top US diplomats and military commanders in Afghanistan.
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