Progress Towards July 2011 Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan Mixed, U.S. Envoy Says
July 27, 2010 - 5:48 PMRichard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, when questioned during a Senate panel hearing, indicated that the progress towards Obama's July 2011 drawdown date is mixed, and he added that "there is no single answer yet to this extraordinarily complicated situation."
While Holbrooke was testifying during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. civilian strategy in Afghanistan, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), the panel’s Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee chairman, asked him whether the U.S. was on track to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011.
“I guess my simplest answer to you would be, in some areas we’re ahead of schedule, in other areas we’re on schedule, and in other areas there’s much to be desired,” responded Holbrooke.
The ambassador added that it is uncertain whether the positive aspects of the progress are going to last.
“For example, the attrition rate for the Army and the police has gone down,” he said. “That is a really important factor, but I honestly don’t know whether it’s seasonal, anecdotal, or it’s sustained. We won’t know for awhile. That’s why the president did not, does not want this tree up by the roots every month and re-examine it, it has to nurture.”
The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan also pointed out that it is too soon to tell whether the U.S. is ready to begin pulling out in July 2011.
“You have to take this issue by issue,” testified Holbrooke. “There is no single answer yet to this extraordinarily complicated situation.”
Holbrooke highlighted strides made by the U.S.-led training of Afghan National Security Forces as described by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission.
“Gen. Caldwell in charge of the training is in constant touch with us,” said Holbrooke. “He’s reporting how they’re moving forward. Nothing is more important than getting the police and army up to sustainability.”
However, Holbrooke also pointed out the hurdles affecting U.S. efforts in Marjah, a town in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a heavy poppy-producing region and Taliban safe-haven that is home to America’s largest military operation against insurgents.
“On the other hand … in Marjah there are not enough judges,” explained the U.S. ambassador in his July 14 testimony. “There are not enough local police yet and people are being assassinated and as Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal said publicly Marjah has not gone quite at the pace expected but it’s moving forward in the estimation of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].”
Holbrooke towards the end of his answer to Cardin’s question about the July 2011 draw down date, said, “The elements that I stressed during my opening statement involving the progress in Pakistan cannot be neglected. Pakistan is at least as important to our national security.”
Obama first announced the July 2011 troop drawdown date during a speech at West Point Academy on Dec. 2, 2009, saying, “We will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”
Since then, the president has continued to repeat his July 2011 policy, emphasizing that the date will mark the beginning of a transitional “process” based on ground conditions in which tasks are going to be transferred to Afghans in a responsible manner.
Holbrooke reiterated the president’s stance on the drawdown of troops during the hearing.
On July 2, CNSNews.com reported that according to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan, the military did not recommend the July 2011 withdrawal date.