Two leading agenda-setters in the Afghanistan War are testifying before Congress today through Thursday: General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander, and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who held McChrystal's job until he became the ambassador to Afghanistan. McChrystal and Eikenberry will be grilled by Congress's war backers and war skeptics on everything from troop levels to infrastructure project to whether we even have a chance. Significantly, the two men have publicly differed on the war: McChrystal warned of "mission failure" without 40,000 additional troops and Eikenberry pled with the White House to send no more troops, citing fears of complicating Afghan President Hamid Karzai's tenuous rule. But now they must work together to sell the White House's war. What should Congress ask?
- What Are We Doing For Afghan Self-Governance? Wired's Noah Schachtman lists 13 questions for McChrystal ranging from fuel transport to rules of engagement. His two best: "You've said the primary mission of ISAF forces should be to secure the population. So why are 9,000 of the 30,000 surge troops headed to largely rural Helmand province? Why are Marines now assaulting the largely abandoned city of Now Zad?" And, "You've said that training the Afghan army and police is now the primary mission there. So why are you devoting only one of the surge brigades to that task?"
- What's The End-Game? Spencer Ackerman responds to Schachtman by linking to his post asking if it's containment. "Dedicated readers know that since March I've been trying to determine how the Obama administration conceives of the actual endgame in Afghanistan-Pakistan -- that is, the point at which we can say the mission is successful," he writes. "But the path out of Afghanistan articulated by the Obama administration, and reiterated at West Point on Tuesday, is through a transition to overwatch with the Afghan security forces. So, once again: could we be transitioning to Afghan security control in the future, and sending U.S. and NATO forces home, while the al-Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan still exist?"
- Pace Of Drawdown? Sen. Claire McCaskill asks fans on her Facebook page to pass along their question. Shawn Gray-Fleek has a sharp one about what "conditions on the ground" will mean for the July 2011 troop decrease. He asks, "Since the drawdown -begins- in 2011, what will be the major factors in determining its pace?"
- Black Jails and Secret Ops Still Going? The American Prospect's Adam Serwer wonders about Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the military special ops group playing an increasingly large role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the "black jail" at Bagram Air Force Base. The Bagram jail, located in Afghanistan, has drawn scrutiny and controversy for lengthy and secretive detention of Afghans.
- Do You Support President Obama's Plan? This is one that's already answered, just minutes into the testimonty: Both McChrystal and Eikenberry say yes. Eikenberry, once considered the skeptic in the room, beamed, "I Can Say Without Equivocation That I Fully Support This Approach." McChrystal expressed total confidence in the strategy, predicting victory. He noted, however, that the July 2011 draw-down date was not his idea.
- What We Still Don't Know Spencer Ackerman, coming out of the first Congressional hearings, lays out the two big unanswered questions. "[F]irst, which southern and eastern Afghan population centers will be protected by U.S. and allied forces and which won't be; and secondly, the ultimate aspirational size of Afghan soldiers and police."