By JoAnne Allen
WASHINGTON, July 22 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was pinned down on Tuesday on whether he credits an increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq -- known as the "surge" -- for helping stabilize the country.
Obama was asked repeatedly on "CBS Evening News" whether the surge has worked.
He explained why he would still oppose a troop increase in Iraq, saying it does not meet the long-term U.S. strategic goal and that the emphasis on Iraq had taken a toll on the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
"If we have shifted away from the central front of terrorism as a consequence of enormous and continuing investments in Iraq, then that's a poor strategic choice," the Illinois senator continued.
Pressed once more on whether he gives the surge any credit for reducing violence in Iraq, Obama said he did, as one factor of many.
""No, no of course I have," he said. "There is no doubt that the extraordinary work of our U.S. forces has contributed to a lessening of the violence, just as making sure that the Sadr militia stood down or the fact that the Sunni tribes decided to flip and work with us instead of with al-Qaeda -- something that we hadn't anticipated happening. All those things have contributed to a reduction in violence."
On the campaign trail, Republican John McCain once again rebuked Obama for his opposition to the surge.
"When we adopted the surge, we were losing the war in Iraq, and I stood up and said I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war," McCain said in New Hampshire.
In a separate CBS interview, the Arizona senator hammered home the point.
"Sen. Obama said the surge would fail. He said that it couldn't succeed. He was wrong," McCain said. "He said he still doesn't agree that the surge has succeeded now that everybody knows that it has succeeded." (Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Philip Barbara)