Obama Faces Perilous Political Path On Afghanistan


President Obama on Thursday cited ""significant progress"" in Afghanistan, but the administration's own annual review of the situation on the ground in the nearly decade-long conflict indicates a perilous road ahead on an issue that has already become a defining facet of his presidency and could add to his political vulnerability as the 2012 presidential campaign kicks into high gear.

""This continues to be a very difficult endeavor,"" Obama told reporters at the White House on Thursday. ""But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.""

Obama again made clear that his aim in the continued commitment to Afghanistan was to dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in the region, not to engage in the kind of nation-building that was a focal point of Bush administration foreign policy.

But as other reports have demonstrated slow progress in the region and questions remain over an array of concerns, including the reliability of Pakistan and the Afghan government, the political risks remain extensive in continuing to mount a war that Obama took full ownership of when he increased the U.S. troop presence last year.

""On this politically, I'm not commenting substantively, Barack Obama wants to do no harm,"" Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian and political history professor at American University, told RealClearPolitics. ""He doesn't want Afghanistan to be an issue one way or the other. He wants the war to be drawn down enough - American casualties to be reduced - so it's just not something on the minds of voters.""