Gen. Stanley McChrystal is testifying this morning before the House Armed Services Committee along with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (webcast here), and, in laying out his take on the president's new plan for the war--a plan McChrystal had a heavy hand in shaping--he predicted that U.S. and NATO forces will start winning the war by this time next year. McChrystal said, in his opening statement:
Additional forces will begin to deploy shortly, and by this time next year, new security gains will be illuminated by specific indicators, and it will be clear to us that the insurgency has lost the momentum.
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 that point forward, while we begin to reduce U.S. combat force levels, we will remain partnered with the Afghan security forces in a supporting role to consolidate and solidify their gains.
Results may come more quickly, and we must demonstrate progress toward measurable objectives, but the sober fact is that there are no silver bullets. Ultimate success will be the cumulative effect of sustained pressure across multiple lines of operation.
This may sound, lifted slightly out of context, like hubris, but McChrystal demonstrated a healthy amount of humility in his statements to the committee, pronouncing off the bat that, despite having commanded forces in Afghanistan since 2002, "[T]here is much in Afghanistan that I have yet to fully understand. For all of us, Afghanistan is a challenge that is best approached with a balance of determination and humility."
The date of July 2011, when President Obama pledged that U.S. forces will begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, has created a stir since Obama layed out his new plan last week at West Point. Some thought it unwise to publicize an expiration date on U.S. commitment, for fear that the Taliban would bide time until the July after next, confident that the U.S. would simply go away if they can wait us out.
To others, July 2011 has seemed a bit sudden--or at least an unrealistic timeframe for Afghanistan to develop a stable, less corrupt government and a capable security force in whose hands the U.S. and NATO can leave Afghanistan by that date.
McChrystal sees Afghan corruption as a problem that needs to be dealt with: he listed the Afghan government's "credibility deficit" as a critical area of risk to the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan.
But on the military end of things, he seems quite confident that 30,000 more U.S. troops, coupled with at least 7,000 more troops from NATO, can get the job done in a relatively short timeframe.
Here's his articulation of where that confidence springs from:
My confidence derives first from the Afghan's resolve, since it is their actions that will ultimately matter most in ending this conflict, with their interests - and by extension our own ‐‐ secured.
Second, we do not confront a popular insurgency. The Taliban have no wide‐spread
constituency, have a history of failure in power, and lack an appealing vision.
Third, where our strategy is applied we've begun to show that we can help the Afghans
establish more effective security and more credible governance.
Finally, Afghans do not regard us as occupiers. They do not wish for us to remain forever, yet they see our support as a necessary bridge to future security and stability.
Afghans' purported support for U.S. and NATO troops is something that does not get talked about by opponents of the war, and McChrystal framed the situation as a crisis of confidence that foreign nations will fully commit to Afghanistan and finish the job they started--not as any nationalistic skepticism of foreign occupants. It is that confidence, rejection of the Taliban, and confidence in Afghanistan's government, military, and police, that will help recruitment and training efforts to build up Afghanistan's own security capabilities--on which the overall strategy, and the withdrawal date, depends.
The next flashpoint for the war will be July 2011 and the months before it, when we get a picture of how aggressively the U.S. will draw down its troops--and that will depend on those same Afghan governmental and security institutions, as well as the newly charged offensive against the Taliban.
So far, Obama's decision has proven popular, but there's a disconnect: despite their support, people think it will succeed as planned.
According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Americans support sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan (58% to 37%), and, even more convincingly, to begin withdrawal by July 2011 (60% to 32%).
But people don't actually believe Obama will begin withdrawing troops by then: 45% say he won't, and 40% say he will. And most (52% to 38%) predict the U.S. won't succeed in eliminating the threat from terrorists operating in Afghanistan. CNN reports that 61% believe conditions in Afghanistan won't be good enough in July 2011 to start withdrawal.
If McChrystal's confident assessment is right, it will be a surprise to the American people.