AFGHANISTAN SURGE -- December 8, 2009 at 11:30 PM ET
McChrystal, Ambassador Avow Support for Obama's Afghan Plan
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and the ambassador made sure there was no difference seen between them as they spoke in public for the first time since President Obama announced his decision last week to send another 30,000 troops there.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry deflected questions from members of Congress about reports of a cable he had sent the White House weeks ago in which he expressed doubt about the wisdom of sending additional troops to Afghanistan due to the corrupt nature of the Karzai government. Eikenberry said at today's hearing with the House Armed Service Committee that "at no point during this review process ...was I ever opposed to additional troops being sent to Afghanistan." He said he fully agreed with Gen. Stanley McChrystal's review that "the security situation ... was dire in certain places of the country" and that additional U.S. troops were needed.
"I am unequivocally in support of this mission, and I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal... in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission," said the ambassador, who was a former top commander in Afghanistan.
For his part, McChrystal said he was satisfied with the decision to send 30,000 more American troops plus the 7,000 soldiers that allies were expected to contribute. The general said the review process had helped more narrowly define his mission was and the requirements for it.
"We designed a campaign that would focus on those areas we thought that needed to be secured. Not every part of Afghanistan is either under threat or needs to be secured at the same level." McChrystal said.
Several committee members continued to question the wisdom of setting a date to begin withdrawing troops, as the president did last week. But McChrystal said he "don't believe the July 2011 timeframe militarily" was a major factor in his strategy.
"I do want to say up front there are people who will grab onto that, I think, inappropriately. And they will try to use it in information operations and describe it as something that it is not, in terms of a lack of commitment on the part of the U.S. and the coalition, because we've committed to a long-term partnership."
McChrystal pointed to the positive aspects of setting a date certain for beginning to withdraw forces. "By being very clear to all the players involved that we are going to be looking hard at things, it provides a forcing function and impetus for moving forward, for the Afghans and others to continue to make progress toward their own capacity."
McChrystal also stressed the Taliban have several weakness. "The reason I believe we can defeat this insurgency," McChrystal said was that because when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan during the 1990s "they were not credible in power, and they are not credible as a political entity now." He added that the Taliban "are not the National Liberation Front of Afghanistan coming back to free the country. In polling data, in my own anecdotal discussions almost every day with Afghans, both in cities and forward, they don't want the Taliban back."
Most members of the House Armed Services Committee hearing were sympathetic to the Obama administrations plans to surge troops to Afghanistan. But Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., offered a note of skepticism.
"I've been very reluctant to endorse President Obama's request for 30,000 new troops. I noted that in Vietnam one of the biggest problems we had were governments that were corrupt and not well-aligned with what the people needed in Vietnam," Sanchez said. Was there any evidence "in the last 18 months that would tell us that the Karzai government is doing something about corruption? Have you seen him ... arrest his brother, put people in jail... stand up a court system that's actually going to take care of some of this corruption; ask him for the numbers to Swiss bank accounts?"
The role of Pakistan and whether the Obama administration is adequately addressing the problem of Taliban sanctuary in that country's border area also came under fire, with some members asking why the president was sending troops to Afghanistan when the bulk of al-Qaida was in Pakistan. Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said "The American people are not going to support the deployment of 30,000 people on a bank shot, on an indirect strategy to try to deal with a very direct problem."
McChrystal and Eikenberry are scheduled to testify over the next few days before other committees.