Obama: Kabul much safer than it was

2011-06-30 12:06

Washington - US President Barack Obama insisted on Wednesday that Kabul is "much safer than it was" but said he expected attacks like the one on the Intercontinental Hotel to continue for "some time".

Nine heavily armed Taliban militants, some in suicide vests, stormed the hotel late on Tuesday, sparking a ferocious battle with Afghan commandos and a Nato helicopter gunship that left at least 21 dead, including the attackers.

The brazen attack, which left the landmark hotel on a hill overlooking the capital ablaze for hours, was seen as a direct rebuttal from the Taliban to Obama's claims of progress as he seeks to wind up the 10-year-old war.

It came only days after Obama announced the "beginning of the end" of the conflict in Afghanistan and tried to reassure American voters ahead of his 2012 re-election campaign that the "tide of war is receding".

In his first public comments on the Intercontinental attack, Obama insisted that the Afghan forces who are responsible for security in Kabul are doing "a reasonably good job" and their capacity is increasing.

"Keep in mind the drawdown hasn't begun. So we understood that Afghanistan is a dangerous place, that the Taliban is still active, and that there are still going to be events like this on occasion," he said.

Work not done

"Kabul is much safer than it was, and Afghan forces in Kabul are much more capable than they were," he told a White House press conference.

"That doesn't mean that there are not going to be events like this potentially taking place, and that will probably go on for some time. Our work is not done."

The attack came weeks before the first foreign forces begin withdrawing from Afghanistan ahead of the planned close of combat operations at the end of 2014.

About 10 000 US troops are slated to leave this year and a further 23 000 before the end of next September. That will leave less than 70 000 US troops in Afghanistan to prop up President Hamid Karzai's fragile hold on power.

The brazen Intercontinental Hotel attack provides fodder for some of the president's critics who argue that he caved in to domestic political pressure and is pulling out US forces to quickly.

Military leaders, including the commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, had wanted to keep more forces in place through next summer's fighting season to cement progress in the south and renew efforts in the east.