Obama admits US not winning war in Afghanistan


US president Barack Obama has admitted the US is not winning its war in Afghanistan.

Asked in an interview with The New York Timesif the US was winning in Afghanistan, the Mr Obama said: “No” while adding: “Our troops are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation.

“But you’ve seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years. The Taliban is bolder than it was. I think ... in the southern regions of the country, you’re seeing them attack in ways that we have not seen previously.”

In the interview, posted on the paper’s website yesterday, Mr Obama said: “The national government still has not gained the confidence of the Afghan people.

“And so it’s going to be critical for us to not only, get through these national elections to stabilise the security situation, but we’ve got to recast our policy so that our military, diplomatic and development goals are all aligned to ensure that al-Qaeda and extremists that would do us harm don’t have the kinds of safe havens that allow them to operate.”

Mr Obama said there may be opportunities to reach out to moderates in the Taliban, but the situation in Afghanistan was more complicated than the challenges the American military faced in Iraq.

US troops were able to persuade Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq to co-operate in some instances because they had been alienated by the tactics of al-Qaeda terrorists.

But Mr Obama warned that Afghanistan was a less-governed region with a history of fierce independence among tribes, creating a tough set of circumstances for the US to deal with.

The idea of co-operation with some in the Taliban has been talked about for many months by American military commanders including General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command.

“If you talk to General Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us,” said Mr Obama.

“There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and the Pakistani region, but the situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex.”

Last month, defence secretary Robert Gates said Washington could accept a political agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban if the insurgents would lay down their arms and accept the government’s terms.

At the same time, Mr Obama left open the possibility that US operatives might capture terror suspects abroad without the co-operation of a country where they were found.

“There could be situations — and I emphasise ‘could be’ because we haven’t made a determination yet — where, let’s say that we have a well-known al-Qaeda operative that doesn’t surface very often, appears in a third country with whom we don’t have an extradition relationship or would not be willing to prosecute, but we think is a very dangerous person,” he said.

Mr Obama added that the US did not torture its suspects and noted in some cases that those being held would have an opportunity to challenge their detention in US courts.

It was announced today that about 12,000 US soldiers and 4,000 British soldiers will leave Iraq by September.

The US troops will be removed from Baghdad and Anbar province — once the main battlefields of the war. All 4,000 British soldiers in southern Iraq are also due to leave.

A US spokesman, Major General David Perkins, said Iraq’s security has “greatly improved, and it has moved from a very unstable to a stable position”. He cited a 90 per cent drop in violence that he called its lowest level since the summer of 2003.