Thursday, May 24, 2018

Afghanistan turmoil won't change war plan, U.S. officials say

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is sticking to its stay-the-course message in Afghanistan despite a week of anti-American riots, the killing of two U.S. military advisers and growing election-year demands to bring the troops home.

In an echo of the Bush administration on continuing the unpopular war in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon insisted Monday that the wave of violence against Americans will not derail the war strategy in Afghanistan or speed up the calendar for bringing American forces home.

"We work alongside thousands of Afghans every single day to ensure a better future for the Afghan people. And nothing that has happened over the past week is going to deter us from that goal," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. "We're making progress. We have put the enemy on its heels in many parts of the country."

But the perception that Afghans are ungrateful for U.S. sacrifice and are turning on their American advisers complicates President Barack Obama's plan to ease out of combat against the Taliban over the next two years.

Under current strategy, tens of thousands of U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan at least through the end of this year and Afghan forces would have full control of the country's security by the end of 2014. Both Democrats and Republicans have said the timetable should move up.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the violence will not mean faster troop withdrawal. He pointed to Obama's rationale for expanding the war early in his presidency.

"The No. 1 priority, the reason why U.S. troops are in Afghanistan in the first place, is to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately, ultimately defeat al-Qaida," Carney said.

Administration officials said they believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai's fragile government could collapse and the Taliban would regain power if the United States were to walk away.

A Pew Research Center poll indicates that more than half, 56 percent, of Americans want troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible, while just 38 percent believe the U.S. should stay until Afghanistan is stabilized. The poll was taken just before Obama's State of the Union address in late January.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a leader in the Senate, said Monday the United States should move faster to bring forces home now.

"The sooner the better," Durbin said on MSNBC. "The president is right to start bringing the troops home. I would say to him: Do it more quickly."

Although a military spokesman said protests over the mistaken U.S. burning of copies of the Koran last week are ebbing, the depth of anger at U.S. forces was evident in a suicide bombing at one base and the possible attempted poisoning of U.S. soldiers by a kitchen worker at another.

More than 30 people have died in clashes since it became known last week that copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, and other religious materials were thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at a U.S. base near Kabul.

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