Obama warns of fresh challenges in Afghan war

THE war in Afghanistan will get worse before it gets better, President Barack Obama said yesterday, but he declared his plan to begin withdrawing US forces next year remains on track.

“What I’ve tried to emphasise is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months,” Obama said at a White House news conference with Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

He spoke as the US-led foreign army in Afghanistan gets ready for a push into the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar Province. The campaign for Kandahar, which is to begin in earnest in June, is expected to be among the bloodiest of the nearly nine-year-old war.

“There is no denying the progress,” Obama said. “Nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan.”

Karzai’s warm White House welcome followed months of sniping and frustration over management of the war and about fraud allegations surrounding Karzai’s re-election last year.

“There are moments when we speak frankly to each other, and that frankness will only contribute to the strength of the relationship,” Karzai said with a smile.

Obama acknowledged “setbacks” in the US relationship with Afghanistan, but both he and Karzai said worries about the future of the partnership have been exaggerated.

“Obviously there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment and in a situation in which on the ground both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices,” Obama said.

Obama said he was confident he will be able to meet his goal of beginning to withdraw US forces in July 2011, with Afghan security forces beginning to take over the fight.

US relations with Afghanistan have been under strain, and yesterday’s meeting at the White House was intended to help repair ties. The US has criticised Karzai for tolerating corruption and drug trafficking.

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