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Obama Aims To 'Finish The Job' In Afghanistan

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

At the White House tonight: a formal dinner in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. President and Mrs. Obama are hosting the prime minister on a day filled with other big questions: questions about the war in Afghanistan and President Obama's deliberations about troop levels there. Sources tell NPR that the president will announce his decision one week from today. This afternoon, Mr. Obama refused to tip his hand.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA: It was raining when Prime Minister Singh arrived at the White House this morning. So, the formal welcoming ceremony was moved inside to the lovely - but in this case, very crowded - East Room of the White House. A couple of hours later, after a meeting in the Oval office, the two leaders stood before reporters. Each started out with a lengthy opening statement. There was high praise for the long friendship these democracies share. Mr. Obama went first.

President BARACK OBAMA: This reflects our admiration for the prime minister's leadership, the deep bonds between the peoples of the United States and India�

GONYEA: Then Prime Minister Singh.

Prime Minister MANMOHAN SINGH (India): It is a moment to celebrate the values of democracy, pluralism, liberty, and freedom.

GONYEA: This portion of the prime minister's White House visit was billed as a news conference and it looked and sounded like one. The chairs were full of reporters, cameras chattered away on the riser in the back, but Mr. Obama announced there would be just two journalists called on: one from the U.S., one from India. The American was CBS's Mark Knoller, who offered a multi-part query on Afghanistan.

Mr. MARK KNOLLER (Reporter, CBS): Can you tell us how many more troops you'll be sending to Afghanistan? How you'll be paying for them, and whether you'll be announcing a timetable and/or exit strategy for them?

GONYEA: The president answered exactly none of these questions, nor what he confirm that next Tuesday is when he'll make the announcement, saying only�

Pres. OBAMA: I will be doing so shortly.

GONYEA: The president today did stress that the 10 weeks he has spent holding top level meetings on Afghanistan and Pakistan have been extremely useful.

Pres. OBAMA: I can tell you, as I've said before, that it is in our strategic interest, in our national security interest, to make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively in those areas.

GONYEA: And he said tough decisions need to be made now because not enough attention was paid to this war over the past eight years.

Pres. OBAMA: Some of those years in which we did not have, I think, either the resources or the strategy to get the job done - it is my intention to finish the job.

GONYEA: Finally, without specifically mentioning declining public support for the war and for his handling of it, the president offered this:

Pres. OBAMA: I feel very confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive.

GONYEA: The selling of his new strategy for Afghanistan will begin in earnest with the announcement next week. Meanwhile, McClatchy Newspapers, today, citing unnamed sources, reported the president would dispatch about 34,000 additional U.S. troops over a matter of months. The White House refused to confirm that figure.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.