The US general running the war in Afghanistan told Congress he did not get as many troops as he wanted and must work to a schedule not of his choosing, but insisted Barack Obama’s surge-and-exit strategy was the best way to win.
But as General Stanley McChrystal defended President Obama’s revamped strategy in Washington, the US challenge was underscored in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said, with US defence secretary Robert Gates at his side, that it would probably be five years before Afghan forces could take the lead in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
And Mr Karzai predicted it would be at least 15 years before his government could pay for its own forces.
In Washington congressional committee rooms, Gen McChrystal declared under questioning that “I’m comfortable with the entire plan”.
But in lengthy sessions before Senate and House of Representatives panels, the four-star general warned against expectations of immediate results and said the strategy must show progress within 18 months – Mr Obama’s deadline for beginning to bring US troops home.
“The sober fact is that there are no silver bullets,” Gen McChrystal said. “Ultimate success will be the cumulative effect of sustained pressure.”
Mr Karzai’s comments, following a meeting with Mr Gates, added more uncertainty to the planned exit of American troops. They also lowered expectations of any quick progress by shrunken Afghan security forces, which have long been expected to be equal partners with US forces and troops from 42 other countries stationed in Afghanistan.
In announcing last week his decision to order 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, Mr Obama said they would begin coming home in July 2011.
In exchanges with politicians, both Gen McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said the July 2011 date for starting the US withdrawal provided a “forcing function” to pressure the Afghans to get their own forces ready to handle security.
Hinting at a misgiving, Gen McChrystal said the Taliban would make propaganda use of the withdrawal plan, presumably to encourage its fighters and their helpers to believe the US will was weakening. He added that he believed this could be overcome.
Gen McChrystal admitted he had not recommended the 18-month deadline for beginning a pull-out and had preferred that more fresh forces be sent in.