WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama said Thursday that parts of his strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan are working, but warned that successes in stemming the Taliban in Afghanistan remain “fragile and reversible.”
“Today, al-Qaida’s senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago,” President Obama said in the press briefing room, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright.
Obama said his administration has seen some successful operations in the past year, including the killing of senior al-Qaida leaders and clearing more areas of Taliban control.
“Progress comes slowly and at a very high price in the lives of our men and women in uniform,” Obama said. “In many places, the gains we’ve made are still fragile and reversible.”
The briefing was held Thursday morning after the administration released its annual overview of its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama said a troop draw-down in Afghanistan will begin next July, with U.S. and allied forces turning complete control of Afghan security over to Afghans by 2014.
The president said the main objective in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida, not rid Afghanistan of every security threat or engage in nation-building. He said the focus of the United States and the 49 countries that make up the International Security Assistance Force has been to train Afghani security forces.
Afghan security forces have added 65,000 recruits this year, Gates said, and nearly all are trained to use a rifle. Currently, Afghan forces are securing Kabul and make up more than 60 percent of security forces in Kandahar, Gates said.
The defense secretary added that military gains in Afghanistan since the arrival of the last of the additional 30,000 troops in the past three or months have exceeded his expectations.
“The Taliban control far less territory today than they did a year ago,” he said.
In Pakistan, Clinton said the United States’ relationship with the country has improved from being military-driven to being one engaged with both the military and the civilian front.
“Our partnership is slowly but steadily improving,” Clinton said.
Gates said Pakistan has directed 140,000 troops to its borders to operate against terrorist safe havens, but many troops were drawn off the border by floods that devastated the region this summer.
“Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough,” Obama said. “So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.”
Obama said he spoke to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan as well as President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan about the review.
“This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,” Obama said.