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US Commander: Next 18 Months Decisive for Afghanistan

  • Cindy Saine

General Stanley McChrystal says he is confident the US now has both the right strategy and resources in Afghanistan for success. He says he believes he will know within a year whether the troop buildup is working.

The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan told a congressional panel Tuesday that the next 18 months will be decisive. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan also spoke to a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee hearing.

The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, told the committee that President Barack Obama's security review had provided new clarity to the mission ahead. He said the coalition effort to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan will be costly and require great commitment, but that it will succeed.

"Additional forces will begin to deploy shortly," he said. "And by this time next year, new security gains will be illuminated by specific indicators and it will be clear to us that the insurgency has lost the momentum. And by the summer of 2011, it will be clear to the Afghan people that the insurgency will not win, giving them the chance to side with their government."

He said it would take longer to convince Afghans that the insurgency is going to fail, because they have been disappointed by the international military effort so far and because many view their government as inconsequential or corrupt.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry was asked to explain cables he reportedly sent to President Obama last month from Kabul, questioning the wisdom of sending thousands of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan while concerns persisted about Afghan President Hamid Karzai's leadership.

Eikenberry assured the panel that he is behind President Obama's decision to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the country.

"I am unequivocally in support of this mission," he said. "And I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal, here to my right, in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission."

McChrystal had reportedly asked for about 40,000 additional U.S. troops for Afghanistan. Several representatives pressed him as to whether President Obama was compromising the mission by authorizing only 30,000 additional troops. McChrystal said NATO has pledged an additional 7,000 troops, which would put him very close to the total number of troops he had originally requested.

Earlier, Afghan President Karzai made headlines at a news conference in Kabul with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, saying that it will be at least 15 years before his government will be able to pay for a security force strong enough to protect the country from insurgents.

Ambassador Eikenberry said he had heard President Karzai's remarks and that it is clear the United States and its allies will need to provide long-term financial support for Afghanistan's military and police.

Eikenberry said part of the effort during the next 18 months will be to boost Afghanistan's economy so that Afghans are better able to fund their own troops.

The ambassador pointed out that it is much cheaper to pay for an Afghan soldier to serve in his own country than to deploy an American soldier or Marine there.

"Obviously, it just makes good sense, if you only are looking at the finances of this to invest more in the Afghan National Army and to have the Afghan police and army defending their own country," he explained.

Eikenberry and McChrystal stressed the long-term nature of the U.S. commitment to the people of Afghanistan, long after the transition of combat operations from coalition to Afghan forces begins in 2011.