BREAKING NEWS WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama reviewed the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan Thursday with senior American officials serving in the region as he gears up for a landmark visit later this year.
The meeting in the White House’s ultra-secure “situation room” kicked off at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) with the president’s national security team and military, intelligence and diplomatic officials working in the region.
About 100,000 US troops are deployed in Afghanistan but they are due to gradually begin withdrawing in July as Afghan forces assume greater security responsibilities.
Obama “got an update on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, both from a counterterrorism perspective as well as the security situation in Afghanistan,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said after the meeting.
“The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing our goals” for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011, he added.
“The assessment of where we are security-wise is not a lot different than what you heard the president (say) during the AfPak review — while we’ve seen progress, we understand that that progress can be reversed,” Gibbs cautioned.
In the mid-December review, Obama reaffirmed his target of starting to pull US troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 while emphasizing 2014 as the year when Nato hopes to fully hand over security to Afghan forces.
Top officials have suggested that only a small number of forces will be pulled out by the July target date.
Thursday’s White House meeting, the first of the year, comes as Obama plans an official visit to Pakistan, a key US ally but one with which Washington has had rocky relations marked by mutual distrust.
The visit will be wrapped in high security and secrecy due to a fierce internal conflict and anti-US sentiment, notably over US drone strikes on insurgents in the country’s wild northwest tribal areas.
The United States, meanwhile, this week welcomed the opening of the Afghan parliament as a “significant milestone,” after President Hamid Karzai tried to keep members of parliament from taking their seats only to back down.
Last year was the deadliest one for Western troops in Afghanistan since the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, with 711 foreign soldiers killed.
General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the Taliban insurgency was in retreat.
In a letter to troops released Tuesday, he said the international coalition had seized the initiative on the battlefield over the past year, pushed back the Taliban in the south and inflicted “enormous losses” on mid-level insurgent leaders.