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Top US Officials Questioned on Afghanistan for Day 2


Congressional leaders express concern over troops levels, mission importance

Top U.S. defense and diplomatic officials are facing a second day of tough questioning in the U.S. Congress over President Barack Obama's revised Afghan war strategy that includes the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops.

Congress will need to approve an additional $30 billion needed to fund the strategy over the next year.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democrat John Kerry expressed concern about whether there are enough Afghan troops to partner with American troops.

Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, said more discussion is needed on whether the mission is so important to national security that it requires huge spending increases, and the deployment of troops that make up a major portion of the U.S. armed forces. He also said it is not clear how the troop expansion deals with the problem of Taliban and al-Qaida safe havens in Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

Under the plan, American troops are to start pulling out in July 2011 - a goal questioned by some lawmakers, including Republican John McCain, who said Wednesday that setting an "arbitrary date" to begin a withdrawal only emboldens al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Secretary of State Clinton told the panel Thursday the U.S. will work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to eliminate safe haves for those plotting attacks against the United States and its interests and allies. She said the United States is concerned about corruption within the Afghan government and will work to solve that problem.

Defense Secretary Gates testified that any failure of the international effort in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban "takeover" of much of the country, and Taliban areas could once again become a sanctuary for al-Qaida.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, addressed Afghan lawmakers to sell the new plan.

The first of the additional U.S. troops are to be deployed in weeks. They will focus on fighting the Taliban, securing key population centers and training Afghan security forces. The extra deployments will bring the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 100,000.

In announcing the strategy Tuesday, Mr. Obama said more troops will help accelerate the transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces and allow U.S. forces to begin leaving the country by July 2011.

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