President Barack Obama offered Americans an optimistic assessment of the Afghanistan war on Thursday, even as U.S. spy agencies and aid groups express doubts about the progress amid worsening violence.
Obama, under pressure to show results after criticizing his predecessor George W. Bush for neglecting the war, said the United States was on track to start pulling out troops next July as planned.
His defense secretary, Robert Gates, said it was too early to say how quickly troops would be withdrawn, but Washington hoped to accelerate the drawdown as more progress was made. Obama wants to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan and transition to full Afghan security control by 2014.
A five-page unclassified summary of the White House review said U.S. and NATO forces had made “notable operational gains,” halting the Taliban’s momentum in many areas and disrupting al Qaeda. But it said the gains were fragile and reversible and that major challenges remained.
It reported substantial but uneven progress in the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, whose lawless tribal areas are widely seen as the main obstacle to Obama’s strategy succeeding because of the relatively free flow of militants across the border into Afghanistan.
“I want to be clear, this continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” Obama said Thursday, a year after he ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But, he added, “We’re on track to achieve our goals.”