(Edited from AP, Washington) The war in Afghanistan will get worse before it gets better, President Barack Obama said Wednesday, but he declared his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces next year remains on track.
“What I’ve tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months,” Obama said at a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He spoke as the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan prepared for a push into the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar Province.

(Edited from AP, Washington) The war in Afghanistan will get worse before it gets better, President Barack Obama said Wednesday, but he declared his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces next year remains on track.

“What I’ve tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months,” Obama said at a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He spoke as the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan prepared for a push into the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar Province.

The campaign to wrest parts of Kandahar from Taliban control, which is to begin in earnest in June, is expected to be among the bloodiest of the nearly nine-year-old war.

“There is no denying the progress,” Obama said. “Nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan.”

Karzai’s warm White House welcome followed months of sniping and frustration over management of the war and about fraud allegations surrounding Karzai’s re-election last year.

“There are moments when we speak frankly to each other, and that frankness will only contribute to the strength of the relationship,” Karzai said with a smile.

Obama acknowledged “setbacks” in the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan, but both he and Karzai said worries about the future of the partnership have been exaggerated.

“Obviously there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment and in a situation in which on the ground both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices,” Obama said. Karzai said disagreements are normal in the grinding war.

Obama said the United States’ main goal in Afghanistan remains to defeat the al-Qaida terror network and prevent it from again taking hold in the country from which the Sept. 11 attacks were planned. Karzai thanked Obama for expanding the war against insurgents trying to push him from power.

The two leaders pledged cooperation and respect after a turbulent period, although Obama alluded to at least one area where the two men may not agree. He said he looks forward to further discussion about how Karzai’s government will reach out to militants for a possible political deal to end the war. Karzai wants America’s blessing for faster outreach to militant leaders.

On the eve of a major military push into the Taliban home ground of Kandahar province, Obama said, “We are steadily making progress.” He asserted that the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are beginning to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum.”

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