Obama visits Afghanistan; says al-Qaeda’s defeat within reach

KABUL/WASHINGTON, May 2:
Making a sudden and secretive air-dash to war-torn Afghanistan, President Barack Obama today declared that US will “finish the job” in the country and was near its goal to defeat al-Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild.
Slipping into Afghanistan under the cover of darkness, Obama said the “tide of war” in the country had already been turned and pledged that the US will not abandon it as he inked a strategic pact to set out a long term role in the nation.
“We have travelled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” he said in a telecast live to US from the Bagram air base on the first death anniversary of Osama bin Laden.
But in a blunt reminder of the fragile security situation in Afghanistan, a series of explosions and gun fire erupted in the capital just hours after Obama’s departure leaving at least six dead. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The new Kabul-Washington Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed by Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai provides for American forces to be involved in counter- terrorism and training of the Afghan military after the planned final withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops in 2014.
“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end. … With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace,” Obama said as he assured the Americans, who are “tired of war”, that the winding down had begun in Afghanistan, just as it has already ended in Iraq.
“Over the last three years the tide has turned… We have broken Taliban’s momentum. We have built a strong Afghan security force. We devastated al-Qaeda leadership taking out 20 of their top 30 leaders and one year ago from a base here our troops launched the operation that killed bin Laden.
“The goal that I set—to defeat al-Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild—is within our reach,” Obama declared.
Obama’s fourth trip to Afghanistan, third as Commander- in-Chief, comes months ahead of the November presidential polls where the war is becoming a major election plank.
Nearly 3,000 US and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghanistan war since Taliban was ousted in 2001.
Announcing that the US was building a global consensus to support peace and stability in South Asia, Obama said alongwith pressure on the militants, negotiations were being pursued for peace.
“In coordination with Afghan government, my administration has been in direct discussions with the Taliban. We have made it clear that they can be part of this future if they break with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws,” the US president said.
Obama said that many members of the Taliban – from foot soldiers to leaders – have indicated an interest in reconciliation. “The path of peace is now set before them, those who refuse to walk it will face from Afghan security forces, backed by the US and other allies,” he warned.
Turning to Pakistan, the US president said that Washington has made it clear to Islamabad, “that it can and should be an equal partner in the peace process.”
After that he said reductions would continue at a steady pace and most of the forces would be home by the end of 2014.(PTI)

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