The commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, General David Petraeus, told a congressional committee Wednesday that success in Afghanistan would require a sustained, substantial commitment. But some lawmakers expressed skepticism over how progress could be measured in Afghanistan and whether Pakistan is really committed to fighting extremists on its border with Afghanistan.
General Petraeus cautioned that there would be no quick victory in Afghanistan. He said Islamic insurgents are a growing threat not only to Afghanistan, but to neighboring Pakistan.
"The extremists that have established sanctuary in the rugged border areas not only contribute to the deterioration of security in eastern and southern Afghanistan, they also pose an ever more serious threat to Pakistan's very existence," Petraeus said.
Petraeus came to Capitol Hill to discuss the Obama administration's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee the policy puts a priority on defeating al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and increases regional cooperation in that effort.
Committee Chairman Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, questioned whether progress in Afghanistan should depend on success being made in Pakistan.
"I do not agree with statements by some in the administration that we cannot make progress in Afghanistan without success on the Pakistan side of the border," Levin said. "We should not tie Afghanistan's future totally to the success of efforts in Pakistan or Pakistan's governmental decisions. I remain skeptical that Pakistan has the will or the capability to secure their border."
Petraeus said the Pakistani military has stepped up operations against insurgents, but said more needs to be done. He said Pakistani officials believe the threat of extremist groups has surpassed the threat posed by India.
"This begins with them embracing the idea that the biggest threat to their country's existence is the internal extremist threat rather than the threat to the east," Petraeus said. "That is a recognition that they have stated verbally. We have heard it privately. We now need to help them operationalize that."
The hearing came just days after a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy in Lahore. Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for missile attacks against fellow militants and Tuesday he threatened to attack Washington.
Petraeus said the threat is being taken seriously and intelligence analysts are examining Taliban capabilities to carry out such an attack.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers questioned why there are not clear benchmarks to gage whether the new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan is making progress.
Senator Susan Collins is a Maine Republican:
"How will we assess whether the new strategy is working? How will we know if we are winning?" Collins asked.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said the administration is working to establish benchmarks, but decided to deploy more troops to the war to try to reverse momentum gained by insurgents.
"There was a sense of urgency that there was a need to go forward even as we were refining our metrics," Flournoy said.
About 17,000 additional combat and support troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, with 4,000 others to be deployed to help train the Afghan armed forces. The overall U.S. force level is to reach 59,000 by October.