World News

Obama sees Afghan situation deteriorating

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The situation in Afghanistan seems to be getting worse and a solution will require more than just military force, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday.

“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,” he told CBC television in an interview ahead of his visit to Canada on Thursday.

“I’m absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region, solely through military means,” he said.

“We’re going to have use diplomacy, we’re going to have to use development, and my hope is that in conversations that I have with Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper that he and I end up seeing the importance of a comprehensive strategy.”

Still, Obama said the goal of ensuring that Afghanistan could not be used as a launching pad for attacks on North America was still attainable.

“I think Afghanistan is still winnable. 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,” he said.

Obama voiced appreciation for Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan and gave no hint that he would ask Prime Minister Stephen Harper to extend the combat mission there beyond the mid-2011 date agreed by Parliament.

“Obviously I’m going to be continuing to ask other countries to help think through how do we approach this very difficult problem,” he said. “But I don’t have a specific ‘ask’ in my pocket that I intend to bring out in our meetings.”

After highlights of the interview were aired on Tuesday afternoon, the White House said the president ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, increasing the U.S. presence in the country by more than 40 percent.

Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech