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Petraeus Testifies on Afghanistan

2:43 PM, Mar 15, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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General David Petraeus testified earlier today at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan sounded optimistic, yet cautious:

the past eight months have seen important, but hard-fought, progress in Afghanistan. Key insurgent safe havens have been taken away from the Taliban, numerous insurgent leaders have been killed or captured, and hundreds of reconcilable mid-level leaders and fighters have been reintegrated into Afghan society. Meanwhile, Afghan forces have grown in number and capability, local security solutions have been instituted, and security improvements in key areas like Kabul, Kandahar, and Helmand Provinces have, in turn, enabled progress in the areas of governance and development.

None of this has been easy. The progress achieved has entailed hard fighting and considerable sacrifice. There have been tough losses along the way. And there have been setbacks as well as successes. Indeed, the experience has been akin to that of a roller coaster ride. The trajectory, however, has generally been upward since last summer – though there certainly have been significant bumps and difficult reverses at various points. Nonetheless, although the insurgents are already striving to regain lost momentum and lost safe havens as we enter the spring fighting season, we believe that we will be able to build on the momentum achieved in 2010 – though that clearly will entail additional tough fighting.

As many of you have noted in the past, our objectives in Afghanistan and in the region are of vital importance, and we must do all that we can to achieve those objectives. Those of us on the ground believe that the strategy on which we are embarked provides the best approach for doing just that, noting, as dialogue with President Karzai has reminded us at various junctures, that we must constantly refine our activities in response to changes in the circumstances on the ground. Needless to say, we will continue to make adjustments, in close consultation with our Afghan and international counterparts in Afghanistan, as the situation evolves.

Here’s Petraeus’s full opening statement: 

Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, it’s a privilege to be here today with Undersecretary Flournoy to report on the situation in Afghanistan. However, before I proceed, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the people of Japan as they recover from one of the worst natural disasters in their history. For many years now, Japan has been a stalwart partner in Afghanistan and has made many vital contributions to the mission. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the earthquake and the tsunami.

Bottom Line Up Front

As a bottom line up front, it is ISAF’s assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible. Moreover, it is clear that much difficult work lies ahead with our Afghan partners to solidify and expand our gains in the face of the expected Taliban spring offensive. Nonetheless, the hard-fought achievements in 2010 and early 2011 have enabled the Joint Afghan-NATO Transition Board to recommend initiation this spring of transition to Afghan lead in several provinces. The achievements of the past year are also very important as I prepare to provide options and a recommendation to President Obama for commencement of the drawdown of the US surge forces in July. Of note, as well, the progress achieved has put us on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective agreed upon at last November’s Lisbon Summit, that of Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014.

Getting the Inputs Right

The achievements of 2010 and early 2011 have been enabled by a determined effort to get the inputs right in Afghanistan. With the strong support of the United States and the 47 other troop-contributing countries, ISAF has focused enormous attention and resources over the past two years on building the organizations needed to conduct a comprehensive, civil-military counterinsurgency campaign, on staffing those organizations properly, on developing – in close coordination with our Afghan partners – the requisite concepts and plans, and, above all, on deploying the additional forces, civilians, and funding needed. Indeed, more than 87,000 additional ISAF troopers and 1,000 additional civilians have been added to the effort in Afghanistan since the beginning of 2009. And Afghanistan’s Security Forces have grown by over 122,000 in that time, as well.

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