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Obama wants to 'finish' Afghan job

From NBC's Athena Jones
After weeks of high-level meetings to review his administration's strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama said he would announce his troop decision soon and declared his intention to finish a job that began more than eight years ago.

The main goal in the region remains the same: to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda and prevent the group and its extremist allies from operating effectively. After Thanksgiving -- and likely as soon as Dec. 1 -- the president plans to explain the rationale behind his decision to send what it expected to be thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

"After eight years, some of those years in which we did not have I think either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it is my intention to finish the job," Obama said today at a joint news conference with India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "And I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive."

During the campaign, then-candidate Obama frequently painted Afghanistan as the good war, a war of necessity, arguing that too much focus on a war of choice in Iraq had robbed the effort in Afghanistan of vital resources. His troop announcement, which could come in the form of a primetime address, will include discussion of the obligations of the broader international community in defeating extremists in the region and about helping to make sure the Afghan people are ultimately able to provide for their own security.

Pakistan will play an important role in any strategy Obama announces, and the president acknowledged that the United States had focused too much in the past on military assistance to the country -- to the detriment of helping it develop the kind of civil society necessary for a country to thrive. Obama said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made progress in helping to refocus energies in that area, and he talked about the important progress Pakistan has made in recognizing the threat of extremism.

"Pakistan has an enormously important role in the security of region by making sure that the extremist organizations that often operate out of territories are dealt with effectively," he said.

He added that recent efforts by Pakistan's military to combat extremists in the Swat Valley showed a realization that "extremism, even if initially directed to the outside, can ultimately also have an adverse impact on their security internally. So my hope is that, over time, what we're going to see is further clarity and further cooperation between all the parties and all people's of good will in the region to eradicate terrorist activity."

Before the brief Q&A with reporters at today's press conference, both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh made statements about the importance of the U.S.-India partnership on issues ranging from the global economic recovery and trade to climate change. Obama stressed the need for the two countries to work closely together on nuclear non-proliferation and counterterrorism.

Obama said the fact that the first state visit of his presidency is from India's prime minister "reflects the high esteem" he and the American people place on Singh's leadership and the importance of the partnership between the world's two biggest democracies, a relationship he called one of the "defining partnership of the 21st century."

The president said he had discussed his Afghanistan review with Singh, and he thanked the prime minister for India's contributions to the Afghan people.

"It is important for the international community to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan to help its emergence as a modern state," Singh said during his opening statement. "The forces of terrorism in our region pose a grave threat to the entire civilized world and have to be defeated."