Afghanistan — Afghanistan Timeline Not a Withdrawal Date, Officials Say

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2010 — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s direc­tive call­ing for the start of a con­di­tions-based draw­down of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 shouldn’t be con­sid­ered as an exit date, but rather the begin­ning of the trans­fer of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties to the Afghans, the top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der in the region told a Sen­ate pan­el today.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand com­man­der Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Under­sec­re­tary of Defense for Pol­i­cy Michele Flournoy tes­ti­fied before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. The hear­ing was a con­tin­u­a­tion from yesterday’s meet­ing, which was post­poned after Petraeus had faint­ed due to dehy­dra­tion.

The offi­cials picked up where they had left off, explain­ing the essence of Obama’s Afghanistan strat­e­gy and the sig­nif­i­cance of set­ting a time­line. They also pro­vid­ed an update on Afghanistan oper­a­tions.

“As I not­ed yes­ter­day, I did believe there was val­ue in send­ing a mes­sage of urgency — July 2011 — as well as the mes­sage the pres­i­dent was send­ing of com­mit­ment — the addi­tion­al, sub­stan­tial num­bers of forces,” Petraeus said. “But it is impor­tant that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, based on con­di­tions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits.”

Petraeus added that his agree­ment with Obama’s pol­i­cy was based on pro­jec­tions of con­di­tions in July 2011.

“We’re doing all that is human­ly pos­si­ble to achieve those con­di­tions,” he said.

Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and his experts and lead­ers in the region will con­duct “rig­or­ous assess­ments” through­out the year to deter­mine progress and, if nec­es­sary, make adjust­ments in the strat­e­gy as July 2011 approach­es, Petraeus said.

“I will pro­vide my best mil­i­tary advice to the sec­re­tary and to the pres­i­dent on how I believe we should pro­ceed based on the con­di­tions at that time, and I will then sup­port the president’s deci­sion,” the gen­er­al said. “Pro­vid­ing one’s forth­right advice is a sacred oblig­a­tion mil­i­tary lead­ers have to our men and women in uni­form, and I know that that is what the pres­i­dent expects and wants his mil­i­tary lead­ers to pro­vide.”

Although pleased with Petraeus’ expla­na­tion of the mean­ing of the July 2011 time­line, some on the com­mit­tee voiced con­cerns.

Petraeus attempt­ed to assuage the leg­is­la­tors’ con­cerns, point­ing out that some “jour­nal­is­tic accounts” have mis­con­strued the president’s strat­e­gy. The July 2011 time­line is sub­ject to con­di­tions on the ground at that time, he explained.

“What I have tried to explain today is my under­stand­ing of what July 2011 means and how it is impor­tant, again, that peo­ple do real­ize, espe­cial­ly our part­ners, espe­cial­ly our com­rades-in-arms in Afghanistan and in the region, that that is not the date when we look for the door and try to turn off the light, but rather a date at which a process begins,” he said.

July 2011 “is an inflec­tion point,” Flournoy said. “It is a point at which the end of the surge will be marked and a process of tran­si­tion that is con­di­tions-based will begin.” Set­ting a goal to begin the tran­si­tion U.S. mil­i­tary forces out of Afghanistan shouldn’t be con­sid­ered as detri­men­tal to the U.S. government’s long-term com­mit­ment there, Flournoy con­tin­ued, not­ing a recent strate­gic dia­logue held with Afghanistan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and his cab­i­net, in which U.S. offi­cials dis­cussed “long-term secu­ri­ty assis­tance, long-term com­mit­ments to build capac­i­ty, gov­er­nance [and] devel­op­ment.”

And, the par­tic­i­pants at that meet­ing depart­ed with “no ques­tions in their mind about the depth and endur­ing nature of the U.S. com­mit­ment to Afghanistan,” Flournoy said. “I think that has to be [an] impor­tant con­text in which this con­ver­sa­tion hap­pens.”

In his open­ing remarks at today’s meet­ing with the Sen­ate pan­el, Petraeus not­ed ini­tia­tives, such as the for­ma­tion of the NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan com­mand, that are pur­su­ing greater part­ner­ship with Afghan forces. Such ini­tia­tives, he said, are intend­ed to help Afghan forces achieve the capa­bil­i­ty to assume the lead­ing role in oper­a­tions.

“To that end, I think we should note that Afghan forces are in the lead in Kab­ul and in a num­ber of oth­er areas and mis­sions,” Petraeus explained. “And they are very much in the fight through­out the coun­try, so much so that their loss­es are typ­i­cal­ly sev­er­al times U.S. loss­es. Our Afghan com­rades on the ground are indeed sac­ri­fic­ing enor­mous­ly for their coun­try as are, of course, our troop­ers and those of our [inter­na­tion­al] part­ner nations.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)