Petraeus Says Afghan War Progress Is ‘Fragile’http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/asia/16petraeus.html?ref=world
WASHINGTON — The commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday that the military had had significant battlefield successes but that progress remained tenuous.
The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, offered an “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.”
But in opening two days of much-anticipated testimony, General Petraeus cautioned that “while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.”
He also said that “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.”
Senators of both political parties noted that significant challenges remain: improving Afghan security forces, establishing a more credible government and assisting — even compelling — Pakistan to eliminate ungoverned areas on its territory that serve as safe havens for terrorists and insurgents.
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the general that “the success of the mission depends on Afghan security forces holding the ground which they are helping to clear of Taliban.”
He said that increasing the visible role of Afghan Army and police in taking over the security mission undercuts the insurgency’s narrative, which says that America is an occupying power.
Mr. Levin also called for adding up to 70,000 Afghan troops and police, and he said the United States and its allies should press Afghan leaders to improve governance and public services, and fight corruption.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the committee, declared that “we are turning around the war in Afghanistan.”
But he expressed concerns about President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July, to fulfill a pledge the president made when announcing that 30,000 additional troops would be added to the war.
“We need to be exceedingly cautious about the withdrawal of forces this July,” Mr. McCain said.
General Petraeus cited comments at a recent NATO meeting of ambassadors to note that “we’ll get one shot at transition, and we need to get it right.”
He also said that efforts to woo Taliban foot soldiers away from the insurgency were showing progress. He said 700 former Taliban fighters had officially reintegrated with Afghan authorities and that another 2,000 were now in early stages of the reintegration process.