WASHINGTON – In strikingly personal comments about his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said Sunday his decision to send 30,000 new combat troops was the hardest of his presidency so far.
Obama called his Dec. 1 speech at West Point announcing the deployment the “most emotional speech I’ve made.”
“I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were going to be deployed in Afghanistan,” Obama said in an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.” “And potentially some might not come back. There is not a speech that I’ve made that – hit me in the gut as much as that speech.”
The president disagreed with criticism his plan was confusing and contradictory because at the same time he announced the deployment, he set a date to start withdrawing troops in July 2011. “That’s something we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So I think the American people are familiar with the idea of the surge,” he said.
While planning the Afghan build-up, the administration wrestled with a thorny challenge: Although the goal is to defeat al-Qaida, most of the network’s leaders, fighters and allies are in Pakistan. The “epicenter of violent extremism” menacing the West is based in the lawless border region and must be fought on both sides, Obama said.
“This is the heart of it,” Obama said. “This is where bin Laden is … half of this territory is in Afghanistan, half of it is in Pakistan. Ultimately, in order for us to eradicate the problem, to really go after al-Qaida, in an effective way, we are going to need more – cooperation from Pakistan. There is no doubt about that.”