Afghan war commander: We stick to the plan

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Afghan war commander Gen. John Allen on Thursday pushed back for the first time at suggestions that the U.S. withdraw more than 23,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, laying down a marker of sorts as the debate over future U.S. troop levels heats up.

Allen, appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, was quick to caution that he needed to conduct more analysis before making a formal recommendation to President Obama. He said he was unlikely to present those findings to the White House until sometime this fall or winter.

"My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013," Allen said in response to repeated questioning by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.  "Sixty-eight thousand is a good 'going-in' number, but I owe the president some analysis on that."

At issue is the future size of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The military is set to withdraw the last 23,000 of the 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by this fall, leaving open the question of when the remaining 68,000 troops should return home.

Some in the Obama administration believe that tens of thousands of those remaining troops should withdraw later this year. Senior military commanders, speaking on background, have consistently argued that no additional troops should leave in 2012, in part to help the U.S. and its allies safeguard recent security gains through next summer's fighting season. Allen's comments made clear that he shares that belief.

The testimony comes as the Afghan war debate, long dormant, has begun to intensify because of U.S. weariness with the long conflict. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 60 percent of the country feel the war is no longer worth fighting and that Republican support, for years higher than that of the country as a whole, had fallen sharply.

On the ground in Afghanistan, meanwhile, the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai reacted furiously to U.S. failures like the massacre of 16 civilians earlier this month, allegedly by an American soldier.

Formal charges against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the sole suspect in the shootings, are expected to come on Thursday or Friday. But it's far from clear that will mollify Karzai, who reacted to the shootings by calling for American troops to withdraw from small outposts and likening the U.S. to a "demon."

Allen has to walk a careful line when it comes to Karzai, making clear to skeptical lawmakers that he wouldn't accept such a tongue-lashing from Karzai while simultaneously not doing anything that would sever the already-fragile U.S. relationship with the mercurial Afghan leader or make it harder to work with him.

During Thursday's hearing, Allen said he understood how Karzai's frustration and anger could have led him to use such harsh language, but pushed back at it all the same.

"I reject the use of the word 'demon,' " Allen said. "And I reject the equivalence of our forces with the Taliban in the same sentence."

Allen also rebuffed Karzai's long-standing accusations that American night raids - targeted missions, normally carried out by U.S. commandos designed to kill or capture specific militants - had caused significant Afghan civilian casualties. Allen argued that 83 percent of those raids had found their targets, while less than 1.5 percent caused civilian casualties. The raids, he indicated, were a vital part of the overall U.S. war effort and would not be discontinued anytime soon.

In two days of hearings on Capitol Hill, Allen - who hadn't testified since his initial confirmation hearings last year - showed skill in deflecting politically charged questions and staunchly defending the current American war strategy in Afghanistan. Whether he will be successful in tamping down political opposition to the war, both in the U.S. and Afghanistan, remains to be seen.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.