President Obama talked with CBC’s chief correspondent, Peter Mansbridge, about the war in Afghanistan. The full transcript is available here.
MANSBRIDGE: Afghanistan. As you know, Canada has been there from the beginning, since the fall of 2001, and has suffered extreme casualties in its combat missions there. And the Canadian Parliament has decided, out of combat by the year 2011. When you get to Ottawa, will you have any suggestions to Canada that it should reconsider what its role in Afghanistan is?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think the Canadian contribution has been extraordinary, and for all the families who have borne the burden in Canada, I think we all have a heartfelt thanks.
I’m in the process of a strategic review of our approach in Afghanistan. Very soon we will be releasing some initial plans in terms of how we are going to approach the military side of the equation in Afghanistan.
But I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means. We’re going to have to use diplomacy, we’re going to have to use development, and my hope is that in conversations that I have with Prime Minister Harper, that he and I end up seeing the importance of a comprehensive strategy, and one that ultimately the people of Canada can support, as well as the people of the United States can support. Because obviously, here as well, there are a lot of concerns about a conflict that has lasted quite a long time now and actually appears to be deteriorating at this point.
MANSBRIDGE: But are you saying that you will or you won’t ask Canada to remain in a combat role?
OBAMA: Well, I think, you know, we’ve got until 2011, according to the Canadian legislature, and I think it’s important for the Canadian legislature and the people of Canada to get a sense that what they’re doing is productive. So what I will be communicating is the approach that we intend to take. Obviously I’m going to be continuing to ask other countries to help think through how do we approach this very difficult problem. But I don’t have a specific “ask” in my pocket that I intend to bring out in our meetings.
MANSBRIDGE: Is Afghanistan still winnable?
OBAMA: Well, I think Afghanistan is still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America. I think it’s still possible for us to stamp out al-Qaeda to make sure that extremism is not expanding but rather is contracting. I think all those goals are still possible, but I think that as a consequence to the war on Iraq, we took our eye off the ball. We have not been as focused as we need to be on all the various steps that are needed in order to deal with Afghanistan.
If you’ve got narco-trafficking that is funding the Taliban, if there is a perception that there’s no rule of law in Afghanistan, if we don’t solve the issue of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, then we’re probably not going to solve the problem.
This video is from CBC, broadcast Feb. 17, 2009.