Update: Warns Afghan war ‘may get more intense’
The newly named US commander in Afghanistan told lawmakers on Tuesday that there were signs of progress in the war effort but warned of a “tough fight” ahead.
The NATO-led force “has achieved progress in several locations” this year, including in the southern Helmand province, US General David Petraeus said at a Senate hearing on his nomination to take over command in Afghanistan.
“My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months. As we take away the enemy’s safe havens and reduce the enemy’s freedom of action, the insurgents will fight back.”
WASHINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ General David Petraeus faces worried lawmakers Tuesday for a near-certain confirmation as the head of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan amid growing doubts the US strategy will succeed.
The hearing comes just a day after General Stanley McChrystal, who was promptly removed from the post last week after scathing remarks he and his aides made to a magazine about top Obama administration officials, told the US Army he would retire.
Petraeus, who many in Washington credit as having almost single-handedly turned around the Iraq war, is not expected to face much opposition to his nomination when he goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But a growing debate over the chances of US success in Afghanistan; this was a war already going badly before McChrystal’s derisive remarks to Rolling Stone were made public. Recurrent hiccups in US strategy, violence at an all-time high and a weak Afghan government all will likely complicate his task.
Officials and lawmakers alike are hoping Petraeus can replicate his success as architect of the 2007 Iraq troop “surge” almost six months after President Barack Obama escalated the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan by dispatching 30,000 more US troops.
But Afghanistan is no Iraq, where many Sunni insurgents switched sides to support US efforts to fight Al-Qaeda, the fledgling Iraqi democracy slowly progressed and the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, laid down its arms.
Four months after McChrystal’s first major offensive in the Marjah area of Helmand province, the Kabul government is still rife with corruption. The Taliban are returning and a much-touted operation in the militants’ spiritual homeland of Kandahar has been delayed.
And divisions within the Obama war team, put under a spotlight by McChrystal’s now-public remarks, remain.
Already in November 2009, a pair of forcefully worded memos by US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry showed the retired lieutenant general had serious misgivings about the US counterinsurgency strategy unless the Afghan government cleans up chronic corruption.
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate panel are expected to press Petraeus on the merits of Obama’s July 2011 start date for withdrawing US forces and any possible changes in troop levels. Petraeus told them last week that he viewed the date as “etched in stone.”
But he also carefully stressed it was “a date at which a process begins that is based on conditions” in the strife-torn country, and one that would not prompt the United States to “race for the exits.”
Lawmakers are also due to ask Petraeus for his assessment of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s fitness as a partner, amid widespread charges of corruption and polls showing he lacks popular support at home.
“At the end of the day, his success is our success,” said Petraeus, who until last week oversaw McChrystal as the head of all US troops in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The panel’s top Republican and a longtime Petraeus supporter, Arizona Senator John McCain, predicted the confirmation hearing “will probably be the fastest in the history of the Armed Services Committee.”
Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, said Petraeus “knows counterinsurgency strategy better than anybody. He wrote the book on it.”
You can follow the live confirmation hearings at the following video, courtesy of MSNBC: