Afghan progress on track, insists top general
March 20th, 2012
11:19 AM ET

Afghan progress on track, insists top general

By Larry Shaughnessy, with reporting from Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon

The top commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan insisted Tuesday that the war strategy remains "on track" even with recent setbacks that have sparked violence and Afghan anger toward the United States, such as the burning of Qurans and the killing of 16 Afghans, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.

"I wish I could tell you that this war was simple, and that progress could be easily measured. 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," Gen. John Allen told the House Armed Services committee. "I believe that the campaign is on track. We are making a difference. I know this, and our troops know this."

But perhaps the most moving part of the hearing came early on as Allen read a letter to the House Armed Service Committee from a Marine who died recently in Afghanistan.

"There will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home country to come to his," Sgt. William Stacey wrote to his family in a letter to be read in the event of his death. He was buried one week ago at Arlington National Cemetery.

That child, Stacy wrote, "will have the gift of freedom, which I have enjoyed for so long."

He concluded, "If my life buys the safety of a child who will one day change this world, then I know that it was all worth it."

Allen insisted that the United States and NATO need to ensure that the Afghan government and military can sustain gains earned over the past 10 years of war before the withdrawal of most of the international troops by the end of 2014.

"In the long run, our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition, then, is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the 'way out,'" Allen told the committee.

But committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican, said he doesn't agree with the White House's plan for withdrawal.

"I remain very concerned about the president's decision last summer to speed up withdrawal of the surge troops from Afghanistan, as well as his original announcement, in his speech at West Point, for a date certain in 2014 to withdraw all U.S. combat forces," McKeon said.

Allen said there is no finite plan yet on how troops will be withdrawn through 2014 and insisted the White House has not dictated a withdrawal plan.

"There has been no number mentioned. There has been no number that has been specifically implied," Allen said. He said there is a "strategic conversation" that will take into account his and other commanders' recommendations.

"I am very pleased, frankly, with where we are in that conversation now," Allen told McKeon. He said as commander in Afghanistan the White House has always followed his best military judgment.

The top Democrat on the committee voiced his disagreement with those who criticize the 2014 deadline for U.S. withdrawal.

"We simply cannot say, well, we're never going to leave, we're going to stay because we're fearful that if people think we're going to leave that, therefore, gives them advantage," said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington. "Truth is, it also gives them an advantage if we leave in the minds of the Afghan people that we're never going to leave.

"The effect of that is ... it undermines the confidence in the Karzai government, the confidence in the district and provincial governments, because they do not look like governments that can stand on their own."

Allen said Afghan National Security Forces have increased to 330,000 from 276,000 in the past year, and will reach full strength of 352,000 ahead of deadline. He testified that he believes that's an effective size. "I'm satisfied with the 352 number."

But the cost of supporting those troops could be an issue. The World Bank estimates that it would cost $8 billion but the United States is prepared to fund only $3 billion after 2014. Other NATO countries have pledged an additional $1 billion, leaving half the needed budget unfunded.

James Miller, principal Defense Department deputy undersecretary for policy, who was testifying with Allen, said the 352,000 number is likely temporary, but he couldn't say how much smaller the Afghan forces will get. "We expect that at some point in time, and that time has not been determined ... it will make sense to reduce that level to a long-term sustainable level. But the point of time that makes sense will depend fundamentally on conditions on the ground."

Tuesday's hearing came in the midst of a widespread budget-cutting effort in Washington. But Allen assure the committee such problems have not affected his mission.

"I have to thank the Congress of the United States, and through you, the elected representatives of the American people for having so resourced this campaign. We really need nothing. We want for nothing," he said.

Allen and several of the committee members mentioned but shed little light on two recent events that have strained the U.S.-Afghan relationship: the burning of religious materials, including some Qurans, and the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians in their homes, allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant.

"Each of these events is heart wrenching, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the violence - coalition and Afghan alike," Allen said.

The military will conduct a separate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assignment of the suspect in the shooting rampage, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, to the combat outpost in southern Afghanistan, Allen told the committee.

The administrative review, which is in addition to a criminal investigation, will be conducted by U.S. Forces Afghanistan. The investigation will consider how and why Bales was assigned, Allen said.

"It will look at the command relationships associated with his involvement in that combat outpost," he added.

Another contentious issue between President Hamid Karzai's government and the United States is night raids.

U.S. military officials consider Special Forces raids at night one of the most effective ways to attack Taliban leadership with less risk to civilians. But Karzai told CNN's Fareed Zakaria four months ago, "We want Afghanistan's homes, Afghanistan's villages to be protected, to be safe from such attacks. What we are asking for, in very specific and clear terms, (is that) no foreign forces should enter Afghan homes."

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said just last week after meeting Karzai, "Make no mistake about it: It is important that we continue these operations." But Panetta explained the United States is making changes. Allen echoed that at Tuesday's hearing.

"In just the last three months, we have come a very long way in creating greater capacity amongst the Afghans to conduct night operations in a very credible way," the general said. "Now, we're still heavily partnered with them, and we will be for some period of time, but ... all of our night operations are partnered with Afghan partner unit forces."

But Allen refused to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that the United States may soon have to seek a warrant from an Afghan court before staging a night raid. He said he didn't want to discuss details because "we are in very sensitive negotiations on night operations."

And, as is often the case in hearings about Afghanistan, Iran came up. Allen said that the United States continues to watch for Iranian interference in Afghanistan.

"My issue is with, primarily, in the area of security, and what we understand to be Iranian assistance to certain elements of the Taliban," he said. "It has not been dramatic, it has not been pervasive, but we seek to understand it and we have interdicted that assistance on a number of occasions, and we'll continue to watch it very closely."

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  8. Isabel

    hope our so called ealders(mush,zardari,nawaz,altaf,fazl,qazi ) would have played mind games with foreign forces willing to destroy us BUT they opt to play games with the future of our country and nation for their personal agenda and lust of power and now country is facing fight within(we don't need enemies now we have plenty within our own).our army feels proud in conquering our own land,institutions and killing people and declares victory over nothing instead of defending the homeland.i m not saying to straight away fight a war but to stand for the pride and freedom of our nation(and if things go worse then instead of surrender fight is a better option).we need to have short and long term strategies for that which i dont know how u can expect from a traitor like musharraf.who betrayed the oath,who compromised the sovereignty of nation, who himself propagates that the biggest problem we have is extremism(y he doesnt say roti coz us ki khud ki roti aur power iss war against terrorism say judi hai) and how can u forget the role of his most trusted shaukat aziz in the economic disaster of our country.

    April 4, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply
  9. michaelfury

    And the pipelines, General? Are they on track?

    March 21, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
  10. mardjan

    We could leave tomorrow if we wanted to. I think that given the circumstances and given the fact that the US presence is costing our Country lives and creating more hostility, I think we should leave as quickly as possible. Iran could be of help. They speak the same language. They hate the Taliban They understand the culture and they are not broke like us.In fact I think that the initial success against the Taliban was in a great part due to the help they provided. Why are we not asking Iranians to help? Oh! yes! we are sanctioning them because they are using nuclear technology, even though we know they are not making a weapon. I think we need to review this line of thinking and our policies.

    March 21, 2012 at 5:52 am | Reply
    • Dale

      I guess the 264 billion American dollars that will be used to support the military in that country over the Next three years will easily be payed the American public, that does not include the funding for afghanistan.

      Other countries such as India and China are committed to developing the natural resources such as an estimated 1.8 billion tonnes of ore, with an iron concentration of anything between 61 percent to 64 percent mines and a 6 million tonne steel plant, the contract is to be signed in two months in what will be the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan's resources sector, larger than the $4.4 billion the Chinese have invested in the Aynak copper mine.

      Oh Yea, I almost forgot the Current Afghanistan President Karzai will be taking at least 90 % of that money with him in 2014, when we leave afghanistan, Karzai will leave the country right behind us, and we don't even get a Kiss!

      I would say that the time to get out is now, why pave the way for other govenments/countries intrests at the cost of the American Lives and Public dollars. Have we not given enough American lives and dollars over he past 10 years?

      March 21, 2012 at 8:15 am | Reply

      TO mardjan,,,,,,,,,,,SO ACCORDING TO YOU IRAN CAN HELP US INTEREST IN AFGHANISTAN>>>>> WOW >> you must be in the obama school of foreign policy.

      whats your take on the canadian oil that obama is saying no to and the country of china is saying yes to and going to get ?

      March 21, 2012 at 9:49 am | Reply


    March 21, 2012 at 2:20 am | Reply
  12. Spelunker4Plato

    Hell and tarnation it IS on track! We haven't been murdering civilians faster than in any other point in history! Keep up the good work, U.S. military! We'd be out in the streets without you! Our rights would be in danger without you!

    March 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  13. Attila, The Hun

    ""strategy ""on track"""

    What else is the general going to say?

    March 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  14. Dan the man

    Of course its on track, I'm in charge and of course its all good! How stupid or naive are Congress, for this general to admit otherwise is to say its failed under my watch, and ptentailly end his career!

    March 20, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  15. MD

    Your right on buzzer. Either you have served or you pay way more attention than most of the population of america

    March 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  16. jruss

    It's deja vu all over again. We heard the same nonsense about Vietnam. Sure there were atrocities and bad guys–so what's new? It's a civil war and when foreign soldiers try to intervene bad things happen. Al Qaeda can be dealt with using commandos and drones but it needs to be requested by locals. Get the divisions, the tanks, the APCs outta there. Stop the patrols where soldiers get killed and maimed. You can't conquer and "reform" Afghanistan. They've gotta do it themselves. Our presence only encourages the insurgents. When will our leaders understand that? We have much more sophisticated ways to deter Al Qaeda but their existence is partially our fault. I didn't say "completely." The history of Afghanistan is rife with warlords and tribal warfare. We can't change that. Hey, we lost in Vietnam and they didn't conquer us. Some medieval warlords in caves won't either.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  17. DamonDaniels

    Utter buffonery from another yes man. Sounds just like Westmoreland. This toad must be angling for commandant of the Marine Corps or Chairman. We don't have the combat power to "secure the population" and tyhe ROE are so constrained it takes a two star or three star to drop a bomb. Allen needs to retire.

    March 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • Curtis

      You're obviously completely uninformed of what is happening in Afghanistan. Dropping 500lb bombs on a couple guys with AK-47s who are embedded within the population only serves to alienate the 99.9% of the Afghan population who are sitting out this war and waiting for it to end. That is why bombs are rarely dropped, there are far more effective means to get at the bad guys. We're in a bad situation in Afghanistan, but it is hardly Allen's fault. Until we get rid of Pakistan's influence and lethal aid as well as get the Afghans committed to a national future for themselves, there's only so much we can do. For now, it appears that many Afghans are content to sit idly by and soak up our aid and taking what they can for themselves with no concern for their nation as a whole. The sooner we're out, the better. But, this has less to do with military failures than in putting our faith in the support of our "allies" (Pakistan) and in the people we're trying to help (the Afghans). If the Afghans don't really want to improve their nation, there's nothing we can do to make it happen for them. As long as they don't attack us again, who cares what happens there. Not our problem.

      March 27, 2012 at 2:12 am | Reply
  18. DOU44

    On track to lose because the US miitary scoffs at political solutions to end conflicts the US gov't starts but cannot demand unconditional suurender for domination.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  19. chizzlin sam

    at least vietnam had some kind of purpose–fighting commies...since ubl was blown away, the u.s. presence in afghanistan has no justification...the exit door has opened–the french, the english are running like scared rabbits... the u.s. needs to cut its losses and drag some tail...the locals are getting very restless and i wouldnt put it past the russkies to send some supplies to our enemies...that could get ugly because the u.s. can no longer Get supplies...

    March 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • michaelfury

      March 21, 2012 at 7:42 am | Reply
  20. humanone

    In the 21st C – after all the BS we've been fed – we know the PR tactics vs the reality on the ground.
    I didn't think Gen. John Allen would have a "were failing miserably" report.
    If you're on track – "Mission Accomplished". Good luck and good night.

    March 20, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  21. Phil in Oregon

    The military wants to be out "by the end of 2014" By then almost all the citizens will be buried, so there will be no one left to fight with..

    March 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  22. Bitten

    I agree with Rep Adam Smith, America needs to finish it's started contracts and at the same time set an immediate exit strategy. This is a done deal. Get American troops, civilians and contractors out of Afghanistan. Too much of the American tax payers hard earned money is being mis-appropriated. That hard earned money could serve a better purpose here in the U.S.

    My only concern is for the Afghan women and children, they are the ones that suffer the most. So, grateful to be American! I pray that one day the people of Afghanistan will be liberated, but this can only come from the People of Afghanistan.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • salerno

      Afghans will stay better without the US military presence, especially the women and children.

      March 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
      • Buzzer

        Guessing that you're blaming the U.S. military for the atrocities the Taliban and foreign fighters have committed against the Afghan civilian population because since they get their butts handed to them on the battlefield and cannot prevail, they, instead of legitimately winning their hearts and minds (through education and basic services), instill "fear" into the local population through IEDs to get them "in line"...the exact definition of terrorism.

        Pretty sad that less women and children will die from IEDs planted by the Taliban (BTW the cause of the VAST MAJORITY of civilian casulties) because the they will "back off" because they will no longer be losing on the battlfield if the U.S. military leaves...the women and children will just be subjugated to 12th Century Sharia Law and will in a sense just add to the modern day slave population...outstanding alternative.

        March 20, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
      • Buzzer

        I suppose if the Taliban will get their way if they kill enough of their own population...getting their way with violent cohersion through fear tactics (IEDs) and the U.S. won't be able to stomach watching the killing continue to occur.

        March 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm |

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