Two high-level U.S. officials in Afghanistan who had expressed diverging views on troop surge appeared before Congress today and expressed solidarity with President Obama's decision to send 30,000 additional soldiers to the country.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry testified before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and were peppered with questions about the troop buildup and Obama's timeline for a 2011 start of withdrawal.
McChrystal expressed confidence in the size of the troop deployment and reiterated that progress will be quick.
"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," McChrystal told lawmakers. "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."
Despite being grilled by lawmakers on whether 30,000 additional troops would be sufficient and why a date was set for a drawdown, McChrystal insisted the U.S. will succeed, saying, "We can and will accomplish this mission."
He said that by next year, he will have a better idea of whether the troop number was enough and the timeline for withdrawal will be met.
"The next 18 months are the critical period in this war because I believe they're critical in the minds of the Afghan people and in the minds of the insurgency," he said.
McChrystal, who had asked the president for additional troops, said he believes 30,000 is the right number of additional U.S. forces needed to turn the Taliban's momentum, but he refused to reveal how many troops he had requested because his request is still classified.
"I asked for forces to be deployed as quickly as they could be deployed," he said. "And as the flow worked out, that was going to be about that in 2010."
When asked repeatedly whether he will seek more troops should the need arise next December, McChrystal would only say that he will provide his best military advice, but that he believes they won't be needed.
"I don't believe that we are going to need more forces in 18 months, but I would provide my best military advice on the conditions at any point, either at the 18 months or not, no matter what -- how painful it might be," he told lawmakers.
As McChrystal and Eikenberry testified before Congress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made it clear earlier today that his country's security forces will need 15 to 20 years of financial and training assistance.
In a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Karzai said, "Afghanistan is looking forward to taking over the responsibility in terms of paying for its forces and delivering to its forces out of its own resources, but that will not be for another 15 years."
McChrystal, who met with Obama Monday, said he didn't come up with the July 2011 date that Obama said would be the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Some senators, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., argue that setting a timeline would only "embolden terrorists" and hurt U.S. allies. Today, McChrystal acknowledged that the insurgency might seize on the date as "information operations and describe it as something it is not," but he argued that it's a positive because it serves as a "forcing friction."