Obama, McCain urge focus on Afghanistan

July 16th, 2008 - 6:07 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Barack Obama
Washington, July 16 (DPA) Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Tuesday said the US must broaden its foreign policy focus beyond Iraq, as he pledged to end the war and focus on fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, while Republican John McCain put forward his strategy for addressing ongoing violence there. In a speech on foreign policy in Washington ahead of a planned trip to Europe and the Middle East, Obama said the war in Iraq “distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize.”

“This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe,” he said.

He renewed his call to withdraw most US troops from Iraq within 16 months if he is elected, and said at least two brigades should be shifted from Iraq to defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“In fact, as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain, the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was,” Obama said.

While he admitted a surge in US troops has helped reduce violence in Iraq, he emphasized that it did not change the need to withdraw US troops from the country.

McCain, a long-time supporter of the troop surge, criticized Obama’s plan and said his fellow senator should should wait until he assesses the situation in Iraq in person before putting forward a plan.

McCain called for a comprehensive strategy for the conflict in Afghanistan, including a troop increase of three brigades and a renewed international commitment to the conflict there.

“Insecurity in Afghanistan is the world’s problem, and the world should share the costs,” McCain told a townhall forum in the southwestern US state of New Mexico.

He said a civilian-military campaign plan could help to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The Taliban has launched a major offensive in recent weeks while seeking refuge in neighbouring Pakistan, including a rash of suicide bombings that have left scores of people dead. More than three dozen people died in the July 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

President George W Bush told reporters Tuesday that the violent situation in Afghanistan has grown worse than that in Iraq because of resilient Taliban militants and their determination to kill innocent people.

During a White House press conference, Bush said Afghanistan now looks similar to Iraq two years ago, when violence peaked and the country was on the verge of a sectarian civil war.

McCain noted that several NATO countries have placed restrictions on where and how their troops can operate in Afghanistan. “That’s no way to run a war,” he said, in calling for a more unified command.

On Iran, Obama said “no tool of statecraft should be taken off the table” in diplomatic efforts to convince the country to halt its nuclear programme.

“I will use all elements of American power to pressure the Iranian regime, starting with aggressive, principled and direct diplomacy - diplomacy backed with strong sanctions and without preconditions,” Obama said.

A Washington Post-ABC poll released late Monday showed that Americans were evenly divided between the Iraq strategies of the two presumptive candidates.

But when it came to either candidate’s capability as an effective commander in chief, McCain won hands down with a 72-percent positive rating. Obama only received a 48 percent thumbs-up on his capability as the nation’s top military officer.

Obama’s speech also focused on keeping nuclear weapons from terrorists, achieving energy security and rebuilding US alliances with other countries.

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