Obama pledges Afghan war end; notes loss of Pakistanis in Peshawar
25 September, 2013
NEW YORK: US President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly that the United States is on course to concluding the Afghan war but warned a splintered al Qaeda still poses threat to peace and security.
He also noted that Washington has limited its counter terrorism drone operations and only targets when there is certainty of no civilian loss. While looking at the world scenario, he said the innocent people continue to suffer and cited the loss of around 100 Pakistanis in a Peshawar church attack.
"Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11," he told the 193-member assembly as the high-level 68th session debate got underway.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is among a galaxy of heads of state/government who are attending the annual gathering of the world body under a huge security cover at UN Headquarters in New York. In his half-an-hour address, Obama said as the Iraq war has ended, Afghanistan conflict is coming to a close for the United States, "these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing".
"Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties."
He also referred to the transfer of detainees to other countries and trial of terrorists in the court of law, and told the international community that his administration is "working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay".
He also addressed the question of US intelligence gathering around the world in the wake of international criticism that followed whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks.
"And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share."
He claimed that a result of the US work, and cooperation with allies and partners, "the world is more stable than it was five years ago". "But even a glance at today's headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we've seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe."
Obama also warned that he remained ready to use force over Syria's chemical weapons as he demanded that the United Nations take action.
In a sometimes defensive speech, Obama said the United States was ready to defend interests in the Middle East including ensuring "free flow of energy" and prohibiting weapons of mass destruction. "The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region," Obama told world leaders.
Obama said that the world's credibility was at stake after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.
"There must be a strong (UN) Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so," Obama said.
"If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the UN is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says," he said.
Obama lashed out at critics who questioned whether Assad carried out the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus, which US intelligence says killed some 1,400 people.
"These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighbourhood and landed in opposition neighbourhoods," Obama said.
"It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack," he said.
Obama, who rose to power as a critic of the Iraq war, faced strong opposition from some of his base over his threats to use force in Syria.
But Obama argued that his willingness to use force had triggered action and cast the Syria debate with a wider lens. "I do not believe that military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria," Obama said.