In his first interview with VOA, President Obama defended his decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this year, saying the numbers he announced Wednesday “strike the right balance,” and remaining U.S. troops will ensure “Afghan security forces are able to handle the security needs of the country.”
In the exclusive interview conducted before his Wednesday night announcement, Mr. Obama answered a series of questions about the plan, relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, and ways to repair ties with Pakistan.
The exclusive television interview was conducted in the Map Room at the White House with Senior VOA Correspondent Andre DeNesnera.
Asked if the plan to start withdrawing troops this year will be seen as abandonment in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said he did not think so. He said “there is still going to be a substantial presence, but what it does signal is that Afghans are slowly taking more and more responsibility.”
Mr. Obama said that after 10 years of war the toll in terms of lives lost and money spent is “going to wear on people.” But he said the good news is that “we are transitioning from a position of strength” and have been able to “blunt the momentum of the Taliban.”
Asked if he supported reconciliation talks with the Taliban, Mr. Obama said “we will talk to anybody, but they are going to have to break ties with al Qaida,” cease violence and pledge to abide by the Afghan constitution.
On relations with Pakistan, Mr. Obama acknowledged there have been strains since the killing of Osama bin Laden, but he said he believes Pakistan has a “deep interest” in dealing with terrorist elements.
Asked what the impact of his withdrawal plan would have on NATO and if the alliance should be doing more in Afghanistan, he said the sacrifices of our European allies had been “extraordinary.” But Mr. Obama said there are “larger questions about where we go as the NATO role evolves,” and he said “all of us feel significant pressures on our military budgets.”
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