Clinton: Troops on the Ground Integral to Counterterrorism

Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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 addressa 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.

Cartwright said the "integrated strategy" of boots on the ground combined with counterterrorism efforts should work in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.

"We have the advantage in Afghanistan of having boots on the ground, so we can actually defeat rather than just disrupt" al Qaeda, he said. "We have to get that kind of capability as we look towards Pakistan. That has to be done in partnership with Pakistan. It doesn't mean you have to have American boots on the ground, but you need both."

Gates remarked that he was impressed that Pakistan has put 140,000 troops at its border with Afghanistan.

Special Report: Afghanistan

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.