A Senate panel is questioning four-star General David Petraeus, who has been nominated to take over command of around 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
General Petraeus is considered one of the most respected and reliable soldiers in the U.S. military. Credited with helping to turn around the war in Iraq, General Petraeus has been asked by President Barack Obama to do the same thing in Afghanistan.
Petraeus is being questioned by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the counterinsurgency strategy he championed in Iraq, and how effectively it can be applied in South Asia. The approach emphasizes protecting the local population and in Iraq it helped achieve dramatic results. Following the change there, a powerful Shi'ite militia gave up its weapons and Sunni insurgents switched sides to support the U.S. fight against al-Qaida.
IHS Janes Security Analysis group analyst Jeremy Binnie predicts that it is less likely that troops in Afghanistan will be able to encourage lower-level militants to lay down their arms.
"You have to negotiate from a position of strength," said Binnie. So for as long as, especially the more we talk about withdrawal, the more we talk about changing strategy, the more that sort of empowers the Taliban and they think they're going to win and no one's going to switch sides."
Binnie also points out that the Obama's counterinsurgency strategy faces far greater challenges in Afghanistan than in Iraq because the Kabul government is plagued by corruption.
"There's a widespread perception that the Afghan government isn't really effective enough. And ultimately, the question is if the plan is to hand over the Afghans, can that government in Kabul actually run the show? And a lot of people are pretty doubtful about that," said Binnie.
Lawmakers say Petraeus undoubtedly will be confirmed for the post because of his record of success. If that happens, he would replace General Stanley McChrystal, who resigned last week over disparaging remarks he and his aides made about President Obama and his staff.
Both McChrystal and Petraeus endorsed Mr. Obama's plan to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to reign in the insurgency. Congress has supported the plan, but Democratic lawmakers weary after nine years of war say they want to see progress by the end of the year. They also are looking for Petraeus to assure them that U.S. troops will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, as Mr. Obama has pledged.
In Kabul, NATO spokesman Brigadier Josef Blotz said the political drama has not, and will not, affect the security operations in Afghanistan.
"Regarding the mood of our troops and the pace of operations there is absolutely no change whatsoever. Our troops understand they must continue partnering with the Afghan national security forces to push the fight in the south, that there is no pause in our efforts to protect the Afghan people," said Blotz.
But a new report is casting doubt on U.S. efforts to partner with Afghan forces to improve security. A U.S. special inspector general report says the capability of many Afghan security forces has been overestimated for the past five years because the United States has relied on a faulty rating system.