By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 8, 2009 - The core goal of American forces in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qaida and disrupt and degrade the Taliban, the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan told Congress today. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said he is fully behind President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan to reverse the Taliban's momentum and create time and space to develop Afghan security and governance capacity.
McChrystal, who has been in command in Kabul for six months, participated fully in Obama's strategy review. "Combined with insights and policy considerations from across our government, I believe the decisions that came from that process reflect a realistic and effective approach," he said.
The general reminded the representatives that Afghanistan is a complex environment. "I first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, and have commanded forces there every year since," he said. "Despite that experience, there is much in Afghanistan that I have yet to fully understand."
Afghanistan is a challenge that is best approached with a balance of determination and humility, he said. "While U.S. forces have been at war in Afghanistan for eight years, the Afghans have been at it for more than 30," he said. "They are frustrated with international efforts that fail to meet their expectations, confronting us with a crisis of confidence among Afghans, who view the international effort as insufficient and their government as corrupt or, at the very least, inconsequential."
The insurgency is complex and resilient, too, he said. The Afghan Taliban are the prominent threat to the government of Afghanistan, aspiring to govern the country again. The Haqqani network and the Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin are extremist insurgency groups with more limited geographical reach and objectives, "but they are no less lethal," McChrystal said.
All three groups have ties and receive support from elements in Iran and Pakistan. They have ties with al-Qaida and coexist with criminal networks, both fueling and feeding off instability and insecurity in the region. "The mission in Afghanistan is undeniably difficult, and success will require steadfast commitment and incur significant costs," he said.
Obama's decision, announced Dec. 1 in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., recognizes that the next 18 months will "likely be decisive and ultimately enable success," the general said.
"The president also reiterated how this decision supports our national interests," he added. "Rolling back the Taliban is a prerequisite to the ultimate defeat of al-Qaida. The mission is not only important; it is also achievable. We can and will accomplish this mission."
McChrystal said that while conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated, it is still possible to win against al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Afghans themselves are resolved to end the conflict, he said, and the Taliban are not popular with the people. "The Taliban have no widespread constituency, have a history of failure in power and lack an appealing vision," the general said.
Also where the counterinsurgency strategy has been applied, real gains in security and more credible governance have followed, he noted. "Finally, Afghans do not regard us as occupiers," the general said. "They do not wish for us to remain forever, yet they see our support as a necessary bridge to future security and stability."
McChrystal said the strategy review has imbued the effort in Afghanistan with "a greater sense of clarity, capability, commitment and confidence."
The strategy review questioned all assumptions about the fight in Afghanistan and produced greater clarity on the way forward. Additional forces already are beginning to flow into Afghanistan, with a reinforced Marine battalion deploying now.
"By this time next year, new security gains will be illuminated by specific indicators and will be clear to us that the insurgency has lost the momentum," McChrystal said. "And by the summer of 2011, it will be clear to the Afghan people that the insurgency will not win, giving them the chance to side with their government."
From July 2011, American and NATO forces will play a supporting role as Afghan security forces consolidate and solidify their gains. "Results may come more quickly, and we may demonstrate progress towards measurable objectives, but the sober fact is that there are no silver bullets," McChrystal said. "Ultimate success will be the cumulative effect of sustained pressure across multiple lines of operation."
The 30,000-troop commitment will increase capability in Afghanistan, but more is already being done by a change in approach. "For the past six months, we have been implementing organizational and operational changes that are already reflecting improvements in our effectiveness," he said.
The increased forces will allow faster training of Afghan security forces. The 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division – whose deployment was announced yesterday – has a training mission. Other U.S. forces will partner with Afghan army and police and expand security zones in key areas to reverse insurgent momentum and deny the Taliban the access to the population they require to survive, the general said.
"The additional capability we are building translates into credibility in the minds of Afghans, who demand proof not only that we want to protect them, but that we can," McChrystal said. "In a war of perceptions where the battlefield is the mind of an Afghan elder, the hope of an Afghan mother, the aspirations of an Afghan child, this can be decisive."
U.S. commitment is watched intently and constantly by allies and enemies. The United States walked away from Afghanistan after the Soviets left in 1989. "The commitment of 30,000 additional U.S. forces, along with additional coalition forces and growing Afghan national security force numbers, will be a significant step toward expanding security in critical areas and in demonstrating resolve," McChrystal said.
There are other challenges including corruption in the Afghan national government. McChrystal called this the "Afghan government's credibility deficit." He said this must be recognized by Afghan officials as a critical area of focus and change.
"Equally important is our ability to accelerate development of the Afghan security forces," he added. "Measures such as increased pay and initiatives, literacy training, leader development and expanded partnering are necessary to position the Afghan national security force to assume responsibility for long-term security."
Because extremists operate on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, enhanced coordination and cooperation with the Pakistani government and military are essential the general told the panel.
McChrystal said he is confident that the right strategy and resources are in place.
"Every trip around Afghanistan reinforces my confidence in the coalition and Afghan forces we stand alongside in this effort," he said. "But I also find confidence in those we are trying to help. That confidence is found where an Afghan farmer chooses to harvest wheat rather than poppy, or where a young adult casts his or her vote or joins the police, or where a group of villagers resolves to reject the local insurgency.
"We face many challenges in Afghanistan," he continued, "but our efforts sustain by one unassailable reality: neither the Afghan people nor the international community want Afghanistan to remain a sanctuary for terror and violence."