Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Top General, Ambassador Close Ranks Behind Obama’s Afghanistan Plan

Dec. 8, 2009 – 2:08 p.m.

The top U.S. military and civilian leaders in Afghanistan told skeptical lawmakers of both parties Tuesday that they support President Obama’s new strategy in the war there.

Republicans peppered the pair with questions about a July 2011 deadline to begin a drawdown of troops, while Democrats were edgy about the troop surge ordered by the president.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry faced questions from the House Armed Services Committee that were similar to those asked of the secretaries of State and Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week.

Both men said they supported the president’s strategy to put an additional 37,000 U.S. and allied forces into Afghanistan within six months, and said they each participated closely in the process. McChrystal had originally wanted a larger deployment, while Eikenberry had opposed sending more U.S. forces.

Neither expressed any reservations about the approach chosen by Obama.“I believe we will absolutely be successful,” McChrystal said. Nonetheless Republicans pointedly tried to draw out McChrystal about the risks a timeline might cause.

Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, ranking Republican on the panel, asked, “In your judgment, does the deployment of 30,000 troops to the Eastern and Southern parts of the country and the 18-month timeline provide the least risk and most opportunity for success compared to the other options you gave to the commander in chief?”

McChrystal’s response was that “nothing” was without risk. But he said he thought the plan carried “appropriate risk.”

“In the long term, what, in fact, we have done is provided the Afghans the assurance that we are going to be strategic partners with them,” he said. “Now, that likely will not involve combat forces. It would involve different things over time. But it’s a very important part of the long-term commitment to them.

“I believe for this 18 months we’re going to make tremendous progress against this while we simultaneously grow Afghanistan’s capacity to provide for its own security.”

When asked by Silvestre Reyes , D-Texas, for clarity about the July 2011 date, McChrystal said he did not see it as a deadline, but just a “natural part of what we are doing.” He said withdrawals would begin at that point, but those withdrawals would be based on conditions on the ground.

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