WASHINGTON — As the war in Afghanistan faces a loss of public and congressional support and U.S. casualties rise sharply, the Obama administration is painting its goals for the war as humble and achievable while warning there is no quick fix.
"Nobody thinks that Afghanistan is going to be a model Jeffersonian democracy," President Barack Obama said in a television interview that aired Sunday.
"What we're looking to do is difficult — very difficult — but it's a fairly modest goal, which is: Don't allow terrorists to operate from this region. Don't allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the U.S. homeland with impunity," Obama said in an interview broadcast by Sunday Morning on CBS.
July was the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly nine-year war, with 66 troops killed. Military officials predict the toll will be even higher for several months to come, as U.S., NATO and Afghan forces intensify fighting in Taliban-controlled areas.
The troop surge Obama ordered last year was meant to make that expanded fight possible, but it also guaranteed higher combat deaths and a renewed focus on whether a war that remains a stalemate is still worth fighting.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted that only a small number of U.S. forces will come home next summer, when Obama has said he will begin phasing out the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. A large number of U.S. forces will remain past the start of that drawdown, Gates said, and he gave no estimate for when all U.S. forces might leave.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in the country, drawing the curtain Sunday on a four-year operation that was deeply unpopular at home and even brought down a Dutch government.
The departure of the small force of nearly 1,900 Dutch troops is not expected to affect conditions on the ground but is politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and growing doubts about the war in NATO capitals, even as allied troops are beginning what could be the decisive campaign of the war.