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Obama: Stay the course in Afghanistan

From NBC's Athena Jones
The United States had already adjusted its Afghanistan war strategy to reflect the kinds of concerns highlighted by the release of more than 92,000 secret documents -- before its release -- and must now stay on course, President Obama argued Tuesday as he called on the House to pass a war-funding bill.

The Senate already passed the bill to fund the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The brief Rose Garden statement -- after a closed-door meeting with congressional leadership from both parties -- was the first time the president has addressed the illegal leak of the sensitive, confidential information to the Web site WikiLeaks. That leak is under investigation by the Army's Criminal Investigative Division (CID), which has identified a "person of interest in the matter."

The White House has maintained that the leak of documents, which covered the years from 2004 to 2009, revealed nothing substantially new regarding the administration's concerns about possible Pakistani intelligence connections to insurgents and other issues, but that the release of names, logistical information and other data could hurt operational security -- affecting the people prosecuting the war as well as those who cooperate with coalition efforts in the region.

The president reiterated that concern, while also downplaying the information in the documents.

"They point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall," Obama told the gathered reporters and television cameras.

He went on to say that after seven years of a strategy that was not "adequate to the challenge in this region," his administration had substantially increased America's commitment there, demanded more accountability from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had developed "a new strategy that can work" and put in place a strong team to carry out the plan.

"Now we have to see that strategy through," he said. "As I told the leaders, I hope the House will act today to join the Senate, which voted unanimously in favor of this funding, to ensure that our troops have the resources they need and that we're able to do what's necessary for our national security."

The House is expected to pass the bill.

Obama also used his brief statement to push for Senate passage of a bill that would help small businesses by eliminating capital gains taxes on key investments, expanding successful Small Business Administration programs and creating a $30 billion small business lending fund to help community banks offer loans to these companies, which have had a particularly hard time getting access to credit in this economy and which he said "create two out of every three new jobs in this country."

"These are the kind of common sense steps that folks from both parties have supported in the past," Obama said. "I hope that in the coming days, we'll once again find common ground and get this legislation passed. We shouldn't let America's small businesses be held hostage to partisan politics and certainly not at this critical time."

The president also urged more progress on a comprehensive energy bill, saying that while the Senate was poised to act on a a bill that would respond to the BP oil spill and create new clean energy jobs, more action was needed. He pledged to push for broader changes, including climate legislation.

Finally, Obama said he had asked Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to work with Democrats to confirm nominees to judicial vacancies in a more timely manner.

"If we want our judicial system to work, if we want to deliver justice in our courts then we need judges on our benches," he argued.