U.S. President Barack Obama made
his first visit to the Pentagon Wednesday as commander-in-chief. He conferred
with top officers from all the branches of the armed services about the tough
decisions that lie ahead.
The president met the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of the Army, Navy, Air
Force and Marines, as well as the commandant of the Coast Guard and Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates.
They talked about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the impact the two
conflicts have had on the men and women of the military.
Their discussion took place behind closed doors. But when he left the meeting
room at the end of the session, Mr. Obama walked down a corridor lined with
about 100 mid-level enlisted troops.
He paused to shake hands and exchange a few words, before speaking to
reporters about the challenges facing the military and potential changes in
deployments and policy.
"We are going to have some difficult decisions that we are going to have to
make surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan, most immediately. Obviously, our efforts
to continue to go after extremist organizations that would do harm to the
homeland is uppermost in our minds," he said.
The president did not go into specifics. But has said he wants most U.S.
combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months, and intends to build up American force
levels in Afghanistan.
On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama conferred with top commanders
about the scenarios for a drawdown in Iraq.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that meeting, and the subsequent
session at the Pentagon, are part of a process that should yield results
"I think we have got a deliberate process, (and) that the president will be
able to receive that information and make some key determinations as we change
that mission in Iraq," he said.
Gibbs notes that since the signing of the U.S. Status of Forces agreement
with Iraq, a drawdown of American forces has become a certainty. He makes clear
the concern now is how best to accomplish that task, without endangering Iraqi
security or putting the lives of remaining U.S. troops at risk.
"I think everybody understands with the developments of the past few months
in Iraq with the Status of Forces Agreement that puts an end date on our
involvement there, we are no longer involved in a debate about whether (to
withdraw), but (about) how and when," he said.
Gibbs says President Obama is very aware of the stress the two wars are
placing on American troops and their families.
As he left the Pentagon, Mr. Obama said the U.S. military has carried out its
mission under enormous pressure. "All of you who are serving in the United
States Armed Forces are going to have my full support, and one of my duties as
president is going to be to make sure that you have what you need to accomplish
your missions," he said.
Mr. Obama said he has every confidence the military will continue to do its
job, and he vowed the government will provide the necessary resources.