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US Spy Chief Warns of Long Commitment in Afghanistan

The head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency says it will take many years and billions of dollars to stabilize Afghanistan. And another official, the top U.S. military intelligence officer, adds that while the Taleban has sustained losses, it is still able to mount operations against Afghan and coalition forces.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA chief General Michael Hayden said Afghanistan will need sustained international help over an extended period to put the Kabul government on a solid footing to provide for its people.

"If you ask my view, it will take at least a decade and it will cost billions of dollars,” he said. “And I'll add one more time that the Afghan government will not be able to do it alone. The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population. And, of course, that begins with security."

General Hayden says the Taleban, along with its allies of al-Qaida, has been regrouping. He says good governance by the Kabul government is key to halting the Taleban's resurgence.

"The Taleban has clearly built momentum over this past year,” he added. “The level of violence that they have inflicted has increased significantly. The group has clearly become more aggressive. The Taleban almost certainly refocused its attacks in an attempt to stymie NATO efforts in southern Afghanistan."

The Taleban government was ousted five years ago this month by Afghan opposition forces with U.S. backing. Since then, a government has been formed under President Hamid Karzai, and elections have been held. But the government is viewed by many Afghans as ineffectual in providing basic services, such as clean water and electricity.

Lieutenant General Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says the Taleban is taking advantage of the government's shortcomings.

"The local government institutions receive limited resources from Kabul and struggle to provide effective governance,” he said. “Unrealized expectations at local levels are likely contributing to an erosion of support for the government. Nevertheless, President Karzai remains the most powerful political figure in Afghanistan and retains the widest support."

Both intelligence officers also pointed to the Afghan drug trade as a continuing problem. General Hayden says many Afghans cultivate opium because of their poverty, and the international community should provide alternatives that enable them to make money by other means.

"It may not be by explicit choice, but many people of Afghanistan are pushed into that as the only viable economic opportunity they might have,” he added. “So I suggest, as a first order [of business], rebuilding the infrastructure [to provide] the people of Afghanistan with alternative means of livelihood."

The drug trade, concentrated in Helmand Province, is widely believed to be responsible for rampant corruption in Afghanistan. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan now provides 92 percent of the world's heroin, and the illicit drug trade makes up nearly one-half of that country's Gross Domestic Product.