Com­man­der says U.S. on track to leave Afghanistan

The Washington Times Daily - - From Page One - BY DONNA CAS­SATA

Fac­ing a skep­ti­cal Congress, the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan in­sisted Tues­day that the United States is wind­ing down the decade-plus war and has no in­ten­tion of re­main­ing in the coun­try in­def­i­nitely.

“There is no part of our strat­egy that in­tends to stay in Afghanistan for­ever,” Ma­rine Gen. John R. Allen told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

It marked his first con­gres­sional ap­pear­ance since a U.S. sol­dier’s al­leged mas­sacre of Afghan civil­ians and the burn­ing of Ko­rans by Amer­i­can forces dealt se­vere set­backs to the frag­ile U.S.Afghanistan re­la­tion­ship.

In his ap­pear­ance be­fore the com­mit­tee, Gen. Allen par­ried ques­tions from war-weary law­mak­ers who ques­tioned whether the United States should ac­cel­er­ate the timetable for with­draw­ing some of the 90,000 combat forces still in the coun­try, and whether a pro­jected Afghan force of 352,000 would be ca­pa­ble of en­sur­ing the coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

Gen. Allen gave no hint of a speed­ier draw­down de­spite ris­ing po­lit­i­cal and public pres­sure to end the mis­sion.

Opin­ion polls show that a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans say the United States should bring home the 90,000 troops now in the war-torn coun­try.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai said last week he was at “the end of the rope” about civil­ian deaths, and de­manded that U.S. troops leave lo­cal vil­lages.

The cur­rent U.S. plan calls for a draw­down of 23,000 troops by the end of Septem­ber and a com­plete with­drawal by De­cem­ber 2014, when Afghan forces are to take charge of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity.

“I wish I could tell you that this war was sim­ple, and that progress could eas­ily be mea­sured,” Gen. Allen said. “But that’s not the way of coun­terin­sur­gen­cies.

“They are fraught with suc­cess and set­backs, which can ex­ist in the same space and time, but each must be seen in the larger con­text of the over­all cam­paign. And I be­lieve that the cam­paign is on track.”

Gen. Allen said by year’s end he would as­sess the threat from the in­sur­gency and the progress made by coali­tion forces be­fore rec­om­mend­ing fur­ther re­duc­tions in combat forces next year.

Gen. Allen in­sisted that the U.S. and its coali­tion forces are mov­ing ahead to en­sure that Afghanistan doesn’t re­vert to a ter­ror­ist haven and to trans­fer se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Afghans.

The forces, he said, are meet­ing the com­mit­ments spelled out in the over­all with­drawal plan ham­mered out at a con­fer­ence in Lisbon in Novem­ber 2010.

For­mer Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice, in a CBS “This Morn­ing” in­ter­view ear­lier Tues­day, said U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers must “keep our nerve” in Afghanistan.

“We just have to re­mem­ber what Afghanistan was like 10 years ago,” when the Tal­iban were in charge, said the for­mer Cab­i­net of­fi­cer in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Miss Rice said the U.S. should fo­cus heav­ily on train­ing lo­cal se­cu­rity forces be­cause “we can’t af­ford to leave Afghanistan to the Tal­iban and the ter­ror­ists.”

In the past year, Afghan se­cu­rity forces have ex­panded from 276,000 to 330,000 and are ex­pected to achieve their goal of full strength be­fore an Oc­to­ber dead­line.

This would al­low the United States to with­draw the re­main­ing 23,000 Amer­i­can surge forces while pres­sur­ing the Tal­iban to rec­on­cile.

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