From NBC's Kelly Paice
As President Obama prepares for his State of the Union address on Wednesday night, his administration's leading voice on national security spoke today on the progress he said is being made in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a speech at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, National Security Adviser Jim Jones said the Afghanistan-Pakistan region "remains the epicenter of violent extremism," and although it is "still much too early to judge how our strategy is working ... early signs are encouraging." Jones added that the administration "sought a clarity of our mission, and we achieved that: to disrupt, dismantle, and destroy al Qaeda."
Regarding U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan, including the president's call for 30,000 additional troops late last year, Jones emphasized that U.S. military forces "have a clear mission to target, train, and transfer" in order to create the conditions for Afghan security forces to take responsibility and control of their military. Regarding Pakistan, he stated that there is a clear goal to support the security and prosperity of the country and continue to forge an effective partnership with the government there.
"Pakistan has shown a new resolve in this fight," he said, also making clear that the U.S. will tolerate no safe havens, particularly along the Af-Pak border. "We're investing more in the Pakistani people," he said, mentioning the $1.5 billion per year over five years the U.S. government has promised the country. He also stated that "our allies recognize that our common security is threatened," and therefore NATO allies' commitment of nearly 7,000 more troops and trainers to be sent to the region will be critical to overall success.
Jones clearly stated that although some U.S. troops will start coming home in July 2011, that date is "not a withdrawal date. It is the beginning of a transition to Afghan security forces." The U.S. will "continue to advise and assist," he emphasized, stating that the July 2011 date "sends an important signal to the Afghan people" that the U.S. is a partner and not an occupier.