Senator Barack Obama spent his first day in Afghanistan yesterday visiting the troops, talking to soldiers, and speaking with their commanders. Today he met privately with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
After talking to both sides, his assessment is that the situation in Afghanistan is both precarious and urgent. He said that the U.S. has to start planning to put more troops in Afghanistan now.
The following is a transcript of an exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, who told CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan that U.S. troop levels have to increase.
Obama: "For at least a year now, I have called for two additional brigades, perhaps three," he said. "I think it's very important that we unify command more effectively to coordinate our military activities. But military alone is not going to be enough.
"The Afghan government needs to do more. But we have to understand that the situation is precarious and urgent here in Afghanistan. And I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism."
Logan: "Why does it have to be the central focus? What is so critical to U.S. interests here?"
Obama: "This is where they can plan attacks. They have sanctuary here. They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the drug trade in the region. And so that global network is centered in this area. And I think one of the biggest mistakes we've made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq.
"And despite what the Bush Administration has argued, I don't think there's any doubt that we were distracted from our efforts not only to hunt down al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but also to rebuild this country so that people have confidence that we were to here to stay over the long haul, that we were going to rebuild roads, provide electricity, improve the quality of life for people. And now we have a chance, I think, to correct some of those areas.
"There's starting to be a broad consensus that it's time for us to withdraw some of our combat troops out of Iraq, deploy them here in Afghanistan. And I think we have to seize that opportunity. Now's the time for us to do it.
"I think what's important for us to do is to begin planning for those brigades now. 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. I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we've got to start doing something now.
"The United States has to take a regional approach to the problem. Just as we can't be myopic and focus only on Iraq, we also can't think that we can solve the security problems here in Afghanistan without engaging the Pakistan government."
Logan: "And how do you compel Pakistan to act?"
Obama: "Well, you know, I think that the U.S. government provides an awful lot of aid to Pakistan, provides a lot of military support to Pakistan. And to send a clear message to Pakistan that this is important, to them as well as to us, I think that message has not been sent."
Logan: "Under what circumstances would you authorize unilateral U.S. action against targets inside tribal areas?"
Obama: "What I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence against high-value al-Qaeda targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets, that we should. My hope is that it doesn't come to that - that in fact, the Pakistan government would recognize that if we had Osama bin Laden in our sights that we should fire or we should capture him."
Logan: "Isn't that the case now? I mean, do you really think that if U.S. forces had Osama bin Laden in their sights and the Pakistanis said 'No,' that they wouldn't fire or wouldn't go after him?"
Obama: "I think actually this is current doctrine. There was some dispute when I said this last August. Both the administration and some of my opponents suggested, 'Well, you know, you shouldn't go around saying that.' But I don't think there's any doubt that that should be our policy."
Logan: "But [not going after him] is the current policy."
Obama: "I believe it is the current policy."
Logan: "So there's no change, then?"
Obama: "I don't think there's going to be a change there. I think that in order for us to be successful, it's not going to be enough just to engage in the occasional shot fired. We've got training camps that are growing and multiplying."
Logan: "Would you take out all those training camps?"
Obama: "Well, I think that what we would like to see the Pakistani government take out those training camps."
Logan: "And if they won't?"
Obama: "Well, I think that we've got to work with them so they will."
Logan: "Would you consider unilateral U.S. action?"
Obama: "I will push Pakistan very hard to make sure that we go after those training camps. I think it's absolutely vital to the security interests for both the United States and Pakistan."