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Allen: U.S. Still Needs ‘Significant Combat Power’ in Afghanistan

March 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to the troubled war in Afghanistan and terrorist spillovers around the world.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The man commanding U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan was far away from the battlefield today. Marine Gen. John Allen testified at his second congressional hearing this week.

LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN, commander, International Security Assistance Forces: My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013.

RAY SUAREZ: Allen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that keeping 68,000 Americans on the ground is a good idea, down from 90,000 now.

But he acknowledged again that the killing of 17 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier, and other recent incidents have strained relations with the Afghans.

LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN: These events, in many respects, have struck a blow at the core of the relationship.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s also been a war of words with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who at one point compared the U.S. to a demon.

To that, the general said:

LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN: These incidents can’t be ignored, and he has to explain those incidents to his own population.

Now, some of the terms that he has used, I reject. I reject the use of the word demon. I understand why, in frustration and in anger, those words can come out. But, on behalf of our forces, on behalf of the American people and the populations of the 50 states of ISAF, I reject that term.

RAY SUAREZ: American officials have also struggled to handle relations with neighboring Pakistan. Lawmakers there are now demanding an end to U.S. drone strikes aimed at al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

That demand comes amid reports that the gunman in a series of shootings in France claimed he’d trained by al-Qaida along the Pakistan-Afghan border. For some, such incidents add to fears of a militant resurgence, as U.S. combat troops prepare to withdraw by 2014.

And at today’s hearing, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona warned against an accelerated pullout.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: I know that much of the recent news from Afghanistan has been discouraging, and that has only increased the desire of a war-weary public to end our mission there. It’s critical that President Obama resist the shortsighted calls for additional troop reductions, which are a guarantee of failure.

RAY SUAREZ: Recent opinion polls have shown American support for the Afghan operation is waning. But Gen. Allen said today he won’t make a recommendation on the pace of further reductions until closer to the end of the year.