Defense leaders meet with president on Afghanistan

5 Feb 2014 | Jim Garamone

President Barack Obama and defense leaders spoke about the future of Afghanistan Feb. 4

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman; Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the commander of U.S. Central Command; Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; and Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, met with the president in the Oval Office.

"This is the president's opportunity to hear directly from his commanders," Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters ahead of the meeting. "This is an opportunity for the president to weigh inputs from the military, as well as other sources, for the president to make decisions as we move forward."

In a related note, Warren commented on news reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been meeting in secret with Taliban officials. "We've long said the path to peace [in Afghanistan] is political and diplomatic, and not military," he said. "We've long said that Afghans speaking to Afghans are what's going to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan."

Warren did not confirm whether those meetings had taken place.

Finally, the United States continues to urge the Afghan government not to release dangerous terrorists. The government has said it will release 37 prisoners from an Afghan-run detention facility in Bagram.

In the past, Warren has called these men "bad guys" who have the blood of innocent Afghans on their hands. "We believe they continue to be dangerous and should not be released prior to going through the Afghan judicial process," he said today.

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