President Barack Obama's July 2011 date to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has given a morale boost to Taliban insurgents, who believe they can wait out NATO forces, the top U.S. Marine said on Tuesday.
But General James Conway, who is retiring this fall as commandant of the Marine Corps, said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in southern Afghanistan for years.
Conway's unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism by opposition Republicans of Obama's war strategy as public opinion of the nine-year-old war sours further. "In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance," Conway said of the July 2011 deadline. "In fact we've intercepted communications that say, 'Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.'" ...
Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: "We can either lose fast or win slow."[...]
Conway echoed those sentiments, saying he believed Marines would remain in the south for years -- a fact that would eventually dawn on Taliban insurgents and damage the "enemy psyche."
"If Marines will be there after 2011, after the middle of 2011, what's the enemy going to say then? You know, what's he going to say to his foot troops?" Conway asked.
"I think it could be very good for us in that context, in terms of the enemy psyche and what he has been posturing now for the better part of a year."
The substance of his assessment is nothing new. From a July 4 Newsweek report:
Almost as soon as President Obama announced that U.S. forces would start leaving Afghanistan in July 2011, a text message began zipping between Afghan insurgents’ mobile phones. “Mubarak,” it said—Arabic for congratulations. “If you are a believer, you will be a victor,” the message continued, quoting the Quran. Then the kicker: “The enemy president is announcing a withdrawal of troops who will leave our country with their heads bowed.”
But the fact that Gen. Conway is saying is making this statement publicly could be a big moment in the Afghanistan debate.