Says US military actions in Af-Pak weakened network.WASHINGTON:
US President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to keep pressure on al Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden in the May 2 US raid in Pakistan.
US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan have served to “severely cripple al Qaeda’s capacities,” Obama said at a White House press conference. “Osama bin Laden got the most attention, but before that we decimated some of the upper ranks of al Qaeda,” he said.
The terror group is “having a great deal of difficulty operating and financing themselves. We’ll keep the pressure on,” Obama said.
He stressed that it was in the US national interest “to make sure that you did not have a collapse of Afghanistan in which extremists elements could flood the zone once again.”
US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan “in a responsible way that will allow Afghanistan to defend itself and will give us the operational capacity to continue to put pressure on al Qaeda until that network is defeated,” he said.
Obama insisted that Kabul is ‘much safer than it was’ but said he expected attacks like the one on the Intercontinental Hotel to continue for ‘some time.’
Nine Taliban militants, some in suicide vests, stormed the hotel late Tuesday, sparking a ferocious battle with Afghan commandos and a Nato helicopter gunship that left at least 21 dead including the attackers.
The brazen attack was seen as a direct rebuttal from the Taliban to Obama’s claims of progress as he seeks to wind up the 10-year-old war.
It came only days after Obama announced the ‘beginning of the end’ of the conflict in Afghanistan.
In his first public comments on the Intercontinental attack, Obama insisted that the Afghan forces who are responsible for security in Kabul are doing ‘a reasonably good job’ and their capacity is increasing.
“Keep in mind, the drawdown has not begun, so we understand that Afghanistan is a dangerous place, and the Taliban is still active and there will be events like this on occasion,”` he said. “Kabul is much safer than it was, and Afghan forces in Kabul are much more capable than they were,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2011.