BEIJING — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he was "very close to a decision" on a troop increase for the war in Afghanistan and would make his case to the American people for his Afghan strategy in the next "several weeks."
"I am very confident that when I announce the decision, the American people will have a lot of clarity about what we're doing, how we're going to succeed, how much this thing is going to cost," Obama told CNN in an interview at his hotel in Beijing.
Most important, he said, was that he was asking "what's the end game on this thing, which I think is something that, unless you impose that kind of discipline, could end up leading to a multiyear occupation that won't serve the interests of the United States."
Obama said his "preference" on Afghanistan "would be not to hand off anything to the next president," but did not indicate if that meant he planned to pull out most American troops by 2012. "We have a vital interest in making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable, that it can't infect the entire region with violent extremism."
He said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "has served his country in important ways," but added that he has some weaknesses.
Obama's comments came as part of a series of interviews he conducted with the major American television networks from his hotel in Beijing on his last day in China. He arrived in Seoul, South Korea, the final stop on his Asian trip, on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, arrived in Kabul, the Afghan capital, Wednesday on the eve of Karzai's inauguration.
Clinton said the United States will keep pressing the Afghan government to crack down on rampant corruption, saying the American military cannot defeat militancy without the help of a strong partner.
In remarks to employees at the heavily secured U.S. Embassy compound shortly after her arrival, Clinton lauded the U.S. military, then went to meet with the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has advocated sending tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops.
"Nobody knows better than our military commanders that troops alone cannot meet our goals of defeating al-Qaida, of helping the Afghans get the capacity to defend themselves and provide governance that will result in positive changes for the people of this country," said Clinton, who later dined with Karzai at the presidential palace.
Information from the New York Times and the Associated Press was used in this report.