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McChrystal Expresses Confidence In Afghan Plan

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

On Capitol Hill today, lawmakers heard testimony from both the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and the top American diplomat there. General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said they fully support President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan. And both sought to downplay earlier leaks, which showed them at odds over the strategy, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: When General Stanley McChrystal made his opening statement at the House Armed Services Committee today, he sought to erase any doubts about his feelings toward the man sitting beside him.

General STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (Commander, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan): I welcome this opportunity to testify on our way ahead in Afghanistan. And I'm pleased to do so with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, an old friend.

WELNA: That's the same old friend who had failed to inform McChrystal of two classified memos sent to the White House that got leaked last month. In them, Eikenberry urged that no more troops be sent to Afghanistan until Afghan President Hamid Karzai tackled widespread corruption. McChrystal, for his part, had, in another leaked memo, pushed for as many as 80,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan.

Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton asked McChrystal if he agreed with President Obama's decision to send only 30,000 troops.

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: I agree with the president's decision. And I believe that it provides me the resources that we need to execute the strategy to accomplish the mission as outlined for us.

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri; Armed Services Committee): General, will you be successful in your mission?

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: I believe we will absolutely be successful.

WELNA: That was much more categorical than Ambassador Eikenberry's cautious assessment.

Ambassador KARL EIKENBERRY (U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): Afghanistan is a daunting challenge. Success is not guaranteed, but it is possible.

WELNA: If Eikenberry harbored misgivings about President Obama's new strategy, you wouldn't know it from what he said today.

Amb. EIKENBERRY: I am unequivocally in support of this mission. And I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal here to my right, in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission.

WELNA: But Eikenberry did point out that much of the problem in that region lies across the Afghan border in Pakistan where both Taliban and al-Qaida forces have regrouped and where the U.S. cannot send its forces.

Amb. EIKENBERRY: The effort we're undertaking in Afghanistan is likely to fall short of our strategic goals unless there is more progress at eliminating the sanctuaries used by the Afghan Taliban and their associates inside of Pakistan.

WELNA: But according to General McChrystal, the additional U.S. forces will give the space and time needed to, in his words, degrade the Taliban. That would also help build up Afghan forces to eventually take over that country's security.

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: By next summer, I expect there to be significant progress that is evident to us inside our force. By next December, when I report back to you in detail, I expect that we'll be able to lay real progress out that will be clear to everyone. And by the following summer of July 2011, I think the progress will be unequivocally clear to the Afghan people. And when it's unequivocally clear to them, that will be a critical, decisive point.

WELNA: That upbeat assessment from McChrystal left Florida Republican Jeff Miller with a nagging concern.

Representative JEFF MILLER (Republican, Florida): We do intend to defeat the Taliban. Sir, the military term, in fact, without parsing that too tightly, we intend to prevent them from doing what they want to do.

WELNA: And Minnesota Republican John Kline wondered what McChrystal meant in saying there are now both the right strategy and resources for Afghanistan.

Representative JOHN KLINE (Republican, Minnesota): What is it that we have the strategy and the right resources to do? Is that to win?

Gen. MCCHRYSTAL: I believe it's to let the Afghan people win.

WELNA: Still, McChrystal would not say what he would do if by July 2011 conditions turned out not to be right to begin pulling out U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Such speculation, he said, would be inappropriate.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.