Petraeus: Afghan war gains enable US
March 17, 2011, 9:26 pm TWN
WASHINGTON -- Amid signs of deepening war weariness among Americans, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday he will soon recommend a plan for beginning troop reductions, while embracing President Barack Obama's goal of pursuing a long-term military partnership with the Afghan government.
In a four-hour Senate hearing that was his first since taking command in Kabul last summer, Army Gen. David Petraeus said the tide is turning in the war despite persistent questions about the durability of the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai and the commitment of neighboring Pakistan to keep militants at bay.
Several Republicans said they worry that the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about when the U.S. will leave Afghanistan. Several cited a new Washington Post-ABC poll that said nearly two-thirds of Americans consider the war no longer worth fighting.
In his assessment of the war, Petraeus said that much of the Taliban's battlefield momentum has been halted, putting the U.S. on course to begin pulling out troops in July and shifting security responsibility to the Afghans.
Petraeus cautioned that security progress is still "fragile and reversible," with much difficult work ahead as the Taliban launch an expected spring offensive. With tougher fighting ahead this spring and summer, it seems likely that the first troops to be withdrawn in July will be support forces like cooks and clerks, not combat troops.
Petraeus said he has not yet decided how many troops he will recommend that Obama withdraw in July. The U.S. has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and its international partners have about 40,000.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called on Obama to set a firm timeline for redeploying combat troops from Afghanistan. She said al-Qaida threats from the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere are more urgent than the threats from Afghanistan.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a leading supporter of the war, said he supports the administration's commitment to negotiating a long-term presence in Afghanistan, but he acknowledged that this goal can appear to contradict Obama's promise to start winding down the war by reducing U.S. troop levels in July.
"We're talking about leaving and staying all at the same time, and that can be confusing," Graham said.