Thu December 16, 2010
The Two-Way

Obama: U.S. Is 'On Track To Achieve Our Goals' In Afghanistan

President Obama and some of his top advisors this hour talked with reporters at the White House about the latest review of operations in Afghanistan, which (as NPR's Rachel Martin reported earlier) "concludes that there has been progress, but it's fragile."

The president was followed to the podium by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We updated this post with news from their comments. Be sure to hit your "refresh" button to see our latest additions.

Update at 12:52 p.m. ET: Gates and Clinton just left the briefing room. Read down through this post to see some of what was said.

Update at 12:40 p.m. ET: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responds to a question about stories that al-Qaida hopes to strike again in Europe and the U.S. during the holidays.

Saying he won't go into specifics, Gibbs says "we know that al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates want to and seek to do harm and damage in Europe and the United States."

Update at 12:25 p.m. ET: Could the administration be accused of "sugar-coating" the situation in Afghanistan?

"I think we've been very conscientious all along in terms of trying to be very realistic about the prospects," Gates says.

"I think we're very clear-eyed and realistic," says Clinton.

Update at 12:20 p.m. ET: "With so little public support," Clinton is asked, how can the U.S. continue the war in Afghanistan?

"I'm well aware of the popular concern," Clinton says, "and I understand it." But in matters of critical national security, she adds, leaders can't make decisions "based on polling."

The public should know, says Clinton, that the strategy in Afghanistan is "aimed at protecting you and your family now and into the future."

Update at 12:15 p.m. ET. First question: If progress is "fragile," will the withdrawal of U.S. forces beginning next July be very gradual?

"The president has made clear," Gates says, that the withdrawal "will be conditions-based." As to how quickly U.S. troops will move out of Afghanistan, "the answer is, we don't know at this point," he adds, and the pace will depend on the progress of Afghan security forces.

Update at 12:07 p.m. ET: Gates, who visited Afghanistan last week, says "the sense of progress among those" at the center of the fight there, "is palpable."

"The military progress made in just the last three or four months ... has exceeded my expectations," he adds.

Update at 12:02 p.m. ET: Clinton says it's important to note that "this administration ... inherited an extraordinarily difficult situation. ... There was no coherent strategy to unify American's efforts in the region (and) no clearly defined mission."

"Today, we have a very different story to tell," she adds.

Update at 11:59 a.m. ET: Speaking about Pakistan, Obama says the administration will continue to tell that nation's leaders that "terrorists' safe havens within their borders must be dealt with."

Update at 11:52 a.m. ET: In his opening comments, the president says of the situation in Afghanistan that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," but that the U.S. is "on track to achieve our goals."

He adds that the U.S. believes al-Qaida "is hunkered down" in the region and is under more pressure now than at any time since the early days of the war there. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.