Barack Obama met Sunday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and later reiterated his call for additional U.S. forces to deal with conditions in Afghanistan that he described as “precarious and urgent.”
Obama joined Karzai for a “working lunch,” marking the first meeting for the Afghan president and the Democratic presidential candidate. Obama's colleagues in the congressional delegation visiting Afghanistan, Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., were also at the lunch, said Humayun Hamidzada, Karzai's chief spokesman.
Obama, interviewed in Afghanistan for CBS's “Face the Nation,” called Afghanistan the “central front on our battle against terrorism.” He said the Iraq war had distracted attention from this critical battlefront and that it is now time to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and shifting more military resources into Afghanistan.
“If we wait until the next administration, it could be a year before we get those additional troops on the ground here in Afghanistan, and I think that would be a mistake,” he said. “I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we've got to start doing something now.”
Obama also said that the U.S. should press Pakistan harder to help eliminate the terrorist sanctuaries and training camps along the border that are fueling the strength of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
“I think that message has not been sent,” he said in implicit criticism of the current administration.
In a statement issued after the meeting with Karzai, Obama, Hagel and Reed said their trip had been aimed at assessing whether the United States has the right strategy and resources to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Obama has made the U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan a central plank in his campaign platform, calling for 7,000 additional troops to be sent to the country as part of an overall drawdown in the number in Iraq. He has said that, if elected, he would remove combat forces over a 16-month period and has repeatedly called for more troops and more resources in Afghanistan to fight the mounting threat from a Taliban resurgence and al-Qaida.
Obama and his Republican opponent, John McCain, have sparred over the progress in both wars and how best to reshape U.S. military missions.
That debate continued Sunday on the morning talk shows and elsewhere. McCain's campaign issued a statement highlighting comments from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, raising doubts about the wisdom of removing combat forces from Iraq over the next two years, as Obama has advocated.
“I think the consequences could be very dangerous,” Mullen said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I'm convinced at this point in time that making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important.”