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US: Obama warns Afghan victory not 'quick' nor 'easy'

By Stephen Collinson
Tue Aug 18 04:21:37 EST 2009

PHOENIX, Arizona, Aug 17 AFP - US President Barack Obama warned Monday that victory over insurgents in Afghanistan would not be "quick" nor "easy," days before an election there was marred by rising Taliban violence.

"The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight," Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars service organisation in the southwestern state of Arizona ahead of Afghanistan's presidential election on Thursday.

"We won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy," Obama said, as he explained his new strategy of intensifying the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan now taking effect.

The president defended the war as a necessary conflict which was "fundamental" to the defence of American people in depriving al-Qaeda of a safe-haven to plot follow on attacks to the September 11 strikes in 2001.

Obama noted an upsurge in "fierce" fighting in Afghanistan, but vowed to constantly adapt US tactics and offer the troops the tools and equipment they need.

He did not, however, offer detailed insight into the evolving war strategy, which has seen troops and millions of US dollars pour into the country since the new US president took office in January.

US troop levels are set to reach 68,000 in coming months, more than double the number in place at the start of the year, and analysts predict the head of US and NATO forces, General Stanley McChrystal, may ask for more.

Last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates left open the possibility of eventually sending more forces to Afghanistan but warned US resources were currently deeply stretched with 132,000 troops still in Iraq.

Obama has already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan ahead of Thursday's elections, in line with his strategy of turning the US focus from Iraq to a conflict he says poses a greater security threat.

Earlier, in Afghanistan, top candidates in the presidential race held rallies attended by thousands of cheering supporters.

Seventeen million voters will go to the polls to elect a president for only the second time in Afghanistan's history. They will also elect 420 representatives in 34 provinces, in a huge logistical operation handicapped by rampant insecurity.

President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, is the front-runner but a strong campaign by former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah may force a run-off.

Security fears, already acute, were heightened by a massive suicide bomb attack outside NATO headquarters near the US embassy in Kabul on Saturday, which killed seven Afghans and hurt almost 100 others.

Earlier on Monday, US Afghan war ally Britain said the war in Afghanistan was "winnable," despite its military death toll there recently passing 200 and a poll showing a majority of Britons oppose the fight against the Taliban.