McChrystal and Eikenberry on the Hill
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Amb. Karl W. Eikenberry are appearing before the House Armed Services Committee this morning for the hearing "Afghanistan: The Results of the Strategic Review, Part II." Post Pentagon reporter Greg Jaffe reports:
12:29 p.m. -- The need for local government in Southern Afghanistan. One big shift underway in Afghanistan is a change in the way the United States handles reconstruction. For years the primary focus of the U.S. effort was on building up the national government. The thinking was that fostering national government would prevent local warlords from taking hold. The result is a big governance vacuum in those areas that are currently the main focus of the U.S. effort in the south.
Eikenberry said his top challenge was filling that gap at the local level. "How do we get to that point where we can transfer government responsibilities?" Eikenberry asked.
In many cases, U.S. troops and State Department officials involved in reconstruction are banking on help from tribal elders. The hope is that those tribal structures can be connected to the district and provincial governments in the south.
12:03 p.m. -- Afghans weighing America's long-term commitment. For Republican members of the committee, the primary line of questioning for McChrystal has involved the timeline for U.S. troop withdrawals starting in July 2011. In reply, McChrystal has tried to focus attention less on the specific deadline and more on the Obama administration's pledge that it won't back away from Afghanistan in the long term.
When U.S. Marines venture into Afghan villages, they are usually asked if the U.S. is staying in Afghanistan this time, McChrystal said. And so one key to success will be the United States' ability to convince Afghans that even as combat troop levels start to dip, U.S. long-term interests in the country's success remains strong.
"What they are really judging is not our rhetoric," McChrystal said of the Afghan people. "In villages they are looking for long term predictability in their lives." The Afghans know that the Taliban are making a similar long term commitment, the general said.
11:43 a.m. -- The importance of building capacity. Despite the three month strategy review, which refined and narrowed the mission in Afghanistan, McChrystal is making it clear in the hearing that his fundamental mission won't really change. "It's important that we be able to protect the Afghan people. We can try to win their hearts and minds in the near-time, but you must be able to protect them from coercion," he said.
This is the essence of population-focused counterinsurgency, which for good or ill has become the primary religion of the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
At its core, this strategy revolves around putting U.S. and Afghan troops in population centers, driving off the Taliban and providing Afghans with the time and space they need to build local governments and businesses. Some U.S. officials have suggested that building Afghan capacity, not the more troop intensive job of protecting the population, would be the primary goal of the newly refined strategy. But McChrystal seemed to be saying that you can't have one without the other.
Obama's decision to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan suggests that he agrees.
11:28 a.m. -- More troops beyond the 30,000 unlikely. President Obama's new strategy promises a review of U.S. progress in Afghanistan by December 2010 that will help lay the groundwork for reducing U.S. forces in July 2011.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) wanted to know what would happen if a year from now McChrystal decided he needed more troops. "I believe I'll have the responsibility to give my best military advice, whichever the direction the situation is going. I do not anticipate the requirement to ask for additional forces, but I would always provide my candid best military advice," McChrystal said.
The bottom line is that President Obama is highly unlikely to surge any more forces into Afghanistan beyond the 30,000 troops already slated to go. If the U.S. still doesn't have enough troops to prosecute the strategy in December 2010, the president will likely demand a new approach with new, dramatically scaled back goals for the country.
11:21 a.m. -- McChrystal promises "real progress" by end of 2010. One of the big questions raised by Republicans was whether the July 2011 deadline that President Obama set for withdrawing U.S. troops would rattle the uniformed military, which in the past has tended to oppose such timelines.
McChrystal said that militarily speaking the timeline wouldn't be a "major factor" in his strategy. Some Taliban commanders might use it to sow doubts about the U.S. commitment, he said -- but, he added, that the problem was manageable. "I think we can deal with that," he said. The deadline also has some value in forcing the Afghan government and security forces to make progress, he noted.
McChrystal made it clear he was far more worried about making progress in the near term than about deadlines in 2011. By December 2010 he promised "real progress" in the fight against the Taliban.
10:55 a.m. -- Eikenberry: I "unequivocally" support the mission. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) opened the morning session with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and Amb. Karl W. Eikenberry by probing Eikenberry for signs that he was uncomfortable with the decision to send 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. In the latter days of the three-month long strategy review, Eikenberry expressed reservations in classified cables about sending more soldiers and Marines to fight in the now eight-year-old war. The ambassador wanted clearer assurances that the Afghan government was willing to tackle corruption. He also wanted to wait until the U.S. had a better sense of Pakistan's willingness to crack down on Taliban forces that were fighting in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday morning, Eikenberry did his best to demonstrate that there was no daylight between the United States' top diplomat and its top commander in Kabul. "At no point during this review process was I ever opposed to additional troops being sent to Afghanistan," he said.
Then he edged away carefully from the statement and closer to the sentiment he'd expressed in the cables. He said he'd always backed sending more troops to speed the grown of Afghan national security forces. But he conceded he was worried about how fast those troops would move into the country and the broader context in which they would operate. The "broader context" referred to his concerns about the Afghan government and Pakistan's willingness to crack down on insurgency.
The bottom line, he said, was that he and McChrystal now agreed with the president on the way forward. "I am unequivocally in support of this mission, and I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal here to my right in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission," he said.
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December 8, 2009; 11:07 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , National Security
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