As US public sours on Afghanistan, Obama calls for 'exit strategy'
The president said the US cannot stay indefinitely.
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President Barack Obama stressed that the United States must have an "exit strategy" for Afghanistan in an interview aired Sunday, as his administration prepares to send thousands more troops to the troubled nation to help tame the Taliban insurgency.
The president's remarks come amid mounting public concern over Afghanistan and antiwar protests this weekend in three US cities.
According to the poll released this week, 42 percent of respondents said the United States made "a mistake" in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent last month and just 6 percent in January 2002.
The US currently has some 38,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, and plans to send 17,000 more soon. (See a map of the country here.) Mr. Obama made the comments on CBS's "60 Minutes" program. (See highlights here and full interview here.)
"What we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy [for Afghanistan]," President Obama told the CBS programme 60 Minutes on Sunday.
"There's got to be an exit strategy. There's got to be a sense that this is not a perpetual drift."
He also warned that the focus of US policy should remain on eliminating direct terrorist threats to the US: "Making sure that Al Qaeda cannot attack the US homeland and US interests and our allies. That's our number one priority."
Agence France-Presse highlighted Obama's remarks that the "decision last month to send 17,000 more US troops to Afghanistan – largely to head off a spike in violence before elections in August – was the most difficult he has had to make since taking office."
"You know I think it is the right thing to do. But it's a weighty decision because we actually had to make the decision prior to the completion of (the) strategic review that we were conducting," he said.
US commanders have said as many as 30,000 additional troops are needed to overcome a stalemate in parts of Afghanistan. But some analysts caution against a gradual Vietnam-like escalation in a country historically hostile to outsiders.