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Obama Responds To Gates Memoirs On Afghanistan

U.S. President Barack Obama (file photo)
U.S. President Barack Obama (file photo)
President Barack Obama is defending his faith in the United States' war mission in Afghanistan, following criticism from former Pentagon chief Robert Gates that Obama lacked the passion for military action and lost confidence in his own troop surge.

In his first public reaction to Gates's new memoir, which is being officially published on January 14, Obama said his job is to constantly question U.S. military tactics when sending troops to war.

Speaking at the White House on January 13, Obama maintained that he believes Washington is pursuing the correct policy in Afghanistan, but that the war there remains difficult.

"I think what's important is that we got the policy right but that this is hard and it always has been," he said. "Whenever you have got men and women that you are sending into harm's way, after having already made enormous investments in blood and treasure in another country, then part of your job as commander in chief is to sweat the details on it."

Revelations from Gate's book, "Duty," have sparked debate in Washington by suggesting Obama became disillusioned with the 2009 troop surge strategy by early 2011 and had lost confidence in U.S. military commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

In the 2009 surge, the United States deployed some 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan in a bid to roll back Taliban gains and start bringing about an end to the war.

In the memoir, Gates writes that Obama "doesn't consider the war to be his," instead viewing it as a conflict from President George W. Bush’s administration that he became responsible for when he became president in January 2009.

In an interview broadcast on January 13, Gates complained that parts of his book, leaked to some newspapers, were "hijacked" by people more concerned about making a political point than accurately reflecting his views.

Gates was defense secretary from 2006 to 2011. He was appointed by Bush but continued to serve through the first two years of the Obama administration.

A Republican, Gates was the first Pentagon chief to serve presidents from both parties. Bush is a Republican and Obama a Democrat.

In his remarks on January 13, Obama said praised Gates as a defense secretary who helped design his administration's strategy for drawing down America's involvement in the Afghan war.

"Secretary Gates did an outstanding job for me as secretary of defense," he said. "As he notes, he and I and the rest of my national security team came up with a strategy for Afghanistan that was the right strategy -- that we continue to execute."

In an interview with U.S. National Public Radio, Gates said he had a "very good personal relationship" with Obama. He said the two men "discussed our differences openly" and that Obama gave him "a lot of trust and confidence."

Under the Obama administration's current strategy, all U.S. and Western combat forces are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Some U.S. troops could stay to train Afghan forces and carry out antiterrorism missions. But their presence must be approved by a U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, which Karzai has not yet signed.

U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan at the end of 2001 to oust the Taliban government, which was accused of sheltering Al-Qaeda militants blamed for carrying out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and NBC's "Today Show"