During a surprise trip to Afghanistan today, Vice President Joe Biden told the Afghan government that the United States will maintain a presence in their nation as long as its leaders want the U.S. to stay.
"We are not leaving if you don't want us to leave," Biden said during a press briefing with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to reporters on the scene.
However, the vice president added, "It is not our intention to govern or to nation-build. As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people and they are fully capable of it."
As part of its efforts to dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in the region, the U.S. military is currently training Afghan security forces with the goal of giving the Afghan troops full responsibility for security by 2014.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" last month, Biden said of Afghanistan, "We're going to be totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014."
A U.S. official tells CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller that Biden was not announcing a policy change when he said, "We are not leaving if you don't want us to leave." The official said Biden's comments were "completely consistent" with U.S. policy on Afghanistan and that the U.S. and NATO want an "enduring partnership" with Afghanistan beyond 2014.
The U.S. plans to begin withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan in July of this year, but it is not clear whether a substantial number will come home. As Biden reiterated during his briefing with Karzai today, the United States' recent gains in the nation remain "fragile and reversible."
"There are many hard days that lie ahead," Biden said.Continue »
More than 30 members of Congress, including the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, are asking for Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, to testify in the House early next year.
Democratic Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) and 30 other Democrats sent a letter to President Obama today, requesting Petraeus' presence before Congress to discuss the results of the Obama administration's year-end strategy review. Last week, Republican Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.), the incoming chair of the Armed Services Committee, made the same request in a public statement.
After the release of the strategy review last week, Mr. Obama said said that the U.S. has made "significant progress" in Afghanistan, and in spite of remaining challenges, remains on track to achieve its goals of defeating al Qaeda.
Now that the administration has released its assessment of the war, Conyers said in a statement today, "It is time for Members of Congress to conduct hearings and review conditions on ground so that they may draw their own conclusions."
In their letter today, the congressmen called the administration's strategy review "limited" in its analysis, and they expressed concern about the "uncertain progress" in areas such as minimizing American casualties and combating corruption. The also noted that at a cost of $2 billion per week, the war is significantly contributing to the national debt.
"The American people deserve transparent oversight and a robust and comprehensive review of our Afghanistan policy by both the Administration and the new Congress next year," the letter says.Continue »
Some of the United States' most critical victories in the Afghanistan war have come from targeted counterterrorism efforts. So why is the U.S. keeping about 100,000 troops on the ground?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff vice-chair General James Cartwright said today that the two strategies for fighting al Qaeda cannot be separated.
"Certainly, from our perspective, what you call 'counterterrorism' successes are part of the overall effort and cannot be separated out," Clinton said today. Clinton and Cartwright joined President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to address a new evaluation of the war that concludes U.S. efforts are on track.
In 2009, the new president and his administration engaged in an exhaustive debate over the Afghanistan war. Clinton said today the question of separating counterterrorism efforts from other war efforts was one of the "vigorous discussions" Mr. Obama's team had in 2009.
Ultimately, Mr. Obama decided to add 30,000 troops to the U.S. forces in Afghanistan. However, the United States has also increased its targeted counterterrorism efforts along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
"It's hard to separate out what's necessary on the ground in order to support counterterrorism efforts and stay you can do one without the other," Clinton said today.Continue »
Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET
Following the completion of a new evaluation of the war in Afghanistan, President Obama today said the United States has made "significant progress" there since he laid out a new strategy for the war last year.
"This continues to be a very difficult endeavor," Mr. Obama said. "Thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to meet our goals."
Those goals, Mr. Obama reiterated, are to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. The mission, the president said, is "not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan. Ultimately, it's not nation building."
A five-page summary of the new, classified evaluation, released by the White House Wednesday, shows the evaluation effectively ensures Mr. Obama will stick to his plan to keep U.S. forces engaged in war in Afghanistan through 2014. U.S. troops are still expected to begin leaving the country in July 2011, but it's unclear how significant the withdrawal will be.
"In terms of when the troops come out, the president has made clear it will be conditions based," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who addressed the evaluation today, along with Mr. Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff vice-chair General James Cartwright. "In terms of what that looks like beyond 2011, we don't know."Continue »
In a Monday interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," General David Petraeus, said he was encouraged by U.S. troops' recent progress in Afghanistan, but would not go so far as to say he was "confident" the Afghan army would be able to assume control from U.S. forces by NATO's 2014 deadline.
"I think-no commander ever is going to come out and say, 'I'm confident that we can do this,'" Petraeus told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a pre-taped interview. "I think that you say that you assess that this is-- you believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect and knowing how important it is-- that we have to do everything we can to increase the chances of that prospect."
"But again, I don't think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor," Petraeus continued. "And I wouldn't be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn't convey that."
Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, also responded to a recent ABC News/BBC/ARD/Washington Post poll indicating that Afghan citizens are losing faith in U.S. and NATO forces to improve regional conditions.Continue »
President Obama thanked members of the military on behalf of the American people during a speech at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan Friday, telling the troops, "As we begin this holiday season, there's no place I'd rather be than be here with you."
"I know it is not easy for all of you to be away from home, especially during the holidays," the president said. "I know it's hard on your families. They have got an empty seat at the dinner table. Sometimes during the holiday season, that's when you feel the absence of somebody you love most acutely."
The president flew to Afghanistan overnight in a surprise trip that the White House said was focused primarily on thanking service-members fighting the more than nine-year-old conflict. The visit, which comes in the midst of a worsening jobs picture and a fight over extending the Bush tax cuts at home, was planned one month ago.
The president spent about three hours at Bagram. In addition to giving the speech, he met with top military commanders, awarded five Purple Hearts during a visit to a hospital on base, and spoke via videoconference with Afghan Leader Hamid Karzai. A planned face-to-face meeting between the two in Kabul was canceled because of bad weather.
"I'm not here to give a long speech - I want to shake as many hands as I can," Mr. Obama told cheering troops after being introduced by Gen. David Petreaus, the top commander in Afghanistan. Petreaus hailed the president for his approachability and for making the "tough decision" to give the military the resources it needs to succeed in Afghanistan.
The president told the troops that while there may be political divisions within America, there is at least one thing left and right agree on: Their "uniform support" for "the men and women of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known."
"Everybody back home is behind you," he said. "Everybody."Continue »
Updated 12:35 p.m. Eastern Time
His high-security visit to the embattled and dangerous country, which following a secret overnight flight, was kept quiet until now under White House rules.
It is his second trip to Afghanistan as commander in chief. He was greeted by top Afghan commander Gen. David Petreaus and U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry as he stepped off Air Force One.
The trip comes amid a review of the conflict, which is now in its ninth year. The review is not expected to result in a change in the U.S. strategy in the war despite a number of setbacks in 2010, among them revelations that the United States had been paying and negotiating for peace with a Taliban representative who is likely an impostor.
There have been 467 American troops killed so far in Afghanistan this year, the highest number for any year in the conflict up to now. The White House has its eye on 2014 as a possible date to end combat operations and next summer as the beginning of the wind-down period.
The president made the trip primarily to meet with and thank members of the military, according to the White House. He is scheduled to spend three hours at Bagram. After meeting with Petreaus and Eikenberry, he plans to visit with eight patients at a hospital on the base -- five soldiers and three civilian contractors.
He will award five Purple Hearts during that visit, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. The president is also scheduled to make a speech to troops before his return to Washington.
LISBON -- President Obama returned home from the NATO summit confident of allied support for the U.S. led strategy in Afghanistan but he also signaled the American combat role could go beyond 2014. That is his stated target date to end to the type of combat missions happening now in Afghanistan. He would not rule out the prospect of U.S. troops remaining on combat duty after that time. He told reporters, "It's hard to anticipate what will be necessary to keep Americans safe in 2014."
So much depends on when and if the Afghan military can protect the entire war torn country.
NATO formally agreed to end the combat mission by the end of 2014. NATO countries would continue to offer support and training for Afghan forces. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said allied troops would stay as long as it takes to get the job done.
NATO leaders repeatedly described the way forward as "a transition" process. That choice of words and he overall strategy are aimed at reassuring wary U.S. voters and Europeans that a process to wind down the war would soon be underway. President Obama plans to start a gradual troop withdrawal in July of 2011. Critics contend that the very public plan to start the pullout next summer will empower the Taliban and its followers. NATO chief Rasmussen said, "If the enemies have the idea that they can just wait it out until we leave, they have the wrong idea."Continue »
Updated 4:34 p.m. Eastern Time
President Obama today awarded the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta for his heroic actions in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan in October 2007.
"It is my privilege to present our nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to a soldier as humble as he is heroic: Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta," the president said in an East Room ceremony.
He went on to say that he wanted to "go off script" and point out that "I really like this guy."
"We all just get a sense of people and who they are, and when you meet Sal and you meet his family, you are just absolutely convinced that this is what America is all about," he said. "And it just makes you proud. And so this is a joyous occasion for me -- something that I have been looking forward to."
Giunta, a 25-year-old Iowa native, was given the award for repeatedly running into enemy fire to save American lives and rescue a fellow soldier from the Taliban. "It had been as intense and violent a firefight as any soldier will experience," Mr. Obama said.
All nine of the Medals of Honor awarded previously for conduct since the end of the Vietnam War have gone to members of the military who fell in the line of duty, including three awarded by Mr. Obama. It has been almost 40 years since the award was given to someone who was not killed in action.
When President Obama laid out his strategy for the war in Afghanistan nearly a year ago, he suggested that while he was deploying 30,000 new troops, the end of the war was not far off.
The troop surge, he said, will "allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."
His position - to send more troops while also offering what looked like a deadline for their return - was meant to give the United States an opportunity to stabilize the country while also addressing concerns that America had no exit strategy.
While the July 2011 date made headlines, however, the president was careful to give himself wiggle room.
July 2011 was only, he noted, the beginning of the end - which meant he could bring home just a few thousand troops and still meet the deadline. In addition, Mr. Obama reserved the right to change the deadline depending on conditions on the ground - if things didn't go well, he and other military leaders said, they would reconsider their plan.
And despite some recent successes, things have not gone well. The situation in Afghanistan largely deteriorated in 2010, and an endgame - one that involves the United States and its allies departing a stable Afghanistan with a minimal terror threat and the capacity to handle its own security - is as elusive as ever.
Now comes word that the Obama administration has a new deadline: As the New York Times reported today, citing officials, the administration has an eye on "ending the American combat mission [in Afghanistan] by 2014."
The July 2011 date - the one used to placate an American public that has grown increasingly weary of the war - may still mean the withdrawal of some troops. But it appears likely that it will ultimately be of little importance when it comes to the actual combat operations. (The White House has not officially commented on the report, but it appears to be a strategic leak by officials, who say it will be formally presented at a NATO summit this week.)Continue »
It was recently revealed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been receiving bags of money from the Iranian government. This is in addition to bags of money the Afghan government receives from the U.S. and other governments. The White House disputed the notion that it gives Karzai "bags of money," but allowed that some U.S. aid to Afghanistan is paid in cash.
As Karzai phrased it, he gets bags of money because his office lacks funds, and he is willing to take bags of cash from any benevolent supporter of Afghan's rehabilitation or influence peddler.
According to a New York Times report, bags of money are "part of a secret, steady stream of Iranian cash intended to buy the loyalty of Mr. Daudzai (Karzai's chief of staff) and promote Iran's interests in the presidential palace." And, the Karzai administration can play both sides off each other--using the Iranians and U.S. and NATO funders to fill its coffers while holding alleged "peace" talks with the Taliban. As sage Mark Twain once said, "We have the best government that money can buy."
Karzai said that Afghanistan will continue to ask for cash assistance from Iran. "We've also asked for things in return for this relationship, so it's a relationship between neighbors, and it will go on," Karzai said on Oct. 25.Continue »
Ellsberg congratulated WikiLeaks and its partners for disseminating the grim details about the war, which highlight under-reported Iraqi deaths and myriad alleged human rights abuses.
Ellsberg said revelations made months ago by WikiLeaks relating to the ongoing war in Afghanistan didn't go far enough, and he urged journalist and author Bob Woodward to release the top secret documents and records he gained access to in researching his latest book, "Obama's Wars," to shed further light on the subject.
"WikiLeaks offers itself as the best vehicle for doing that," said Ellsberg, even suggesting that researchers working for Woodward could provide the top secret materials to Assange's organization.
Ellsberg said if the documents Woodward had access to were to be made public, it could "come close" to being a Pentagon Papers on the Afghan war.Continue »
Since being dismissed following a Rolling Stone article for disparaging remarks aimed at civilian national security leadership by him and his aides, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been pursuing an academic mission.
He is teaching a leadership course at Yale and on Friday discussed the Afghan war and leadership at the Daily Beast's Innovators Summit in New Orleans.
McChrystal spoke just as the substance of 400,000 documents on the Iraq war leaked by WikiLeaks were outlined in the press Friday, citing torture, summary executions and civilian casualties.
"I think it's sad," McChrystal said, responding to a question about WikiLeaks. "The decision to leak classified information is something that is illegal, and individuals are making judgments about threats and information they are not qualified to make. There is a level of responsibility toward our people that needs to be balanced with a right or need to know. It's likely that a leak of that information could cause the death of our own people or some of our allies."
He was asked by interviewer Frances Townsend, a former
assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and
counterterrorism, about the impact of media on leadership. The amount of scrutiny and the speed at which information is passed has "changed leadership in ways we don't comprehend yet," McChrystal said. "Information can go will go viral before additional facts are gained and people take a breath."
He added that the media doesn't rise to the level of responsibility it needs to and that people discount certain positions and reporting because they assume it has a certain bias.
He did not comment on the Rolling Stone article that led to his dismissal by President Obama and his retirement from the military.
McChrystal was asked how his military experiences translate to leadership in the private sector.Continue »
Longtime Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Scheiffer Thursday his book "Obama's Wars" is designed to be a "window into the way President Obama's mind works."
The heart of Woodward's newest book is how Mr. Obama came to decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan while also setting a deadline for pulling out, which wasn't fully supported by military leadership.
"It covers 18 months in detail," Woodward said. "You see that he is in a wrestling match with the military. The military wants 40,000 [troops] and they want kind of an open-ended deal. He lays down the law and says no, I'm not going to do that."
"There are electric moments described here in the situation room," Woodward said of the book.
Since "Obama's Wars" was released, Woodward says two schools of thought about the president's decision have emerged. "Some people think that the military rolled Obama by getting 30,000, which is almost what they requested," Woodward said. "Others say no, he slapped the military down."Continue »
President Obama plans to award the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who will become the first living service member who fought in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan to receive the honor.
The president called Giunta yesterday to inform him that he would get the award "for acts of gallantry at the risk of his life that went above and beyond the call of duty," according to the White House.
The date and time of the award ceremony has not been set.
Below, per the White House, is the actions taken by Giunta that earned him the honor:Continue »