America

Pentagon Talks Up Afghanistan Strategy

Robert Gates, Mike Mullen

hide captionJoint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, left, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates testify on Capitol Hill.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

There may be a growing sense on Capitol Hill, in the media and among Americans generally that coalition efforts in Afghanistan aren't going well, that the Taliban are winning and that corruption is running amok in the Afghan government.

But the message coming from Pentagon and top military brass who testified before congressional committees Wednesday was that it's still too early for the U.S. to throw up its hands.

NPR's David Welna covered the congressional appearances of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus and other officials and reported on All Things Considered that their unified message was for the nation to not give up on Afghanistan, at least not yet.

Here's a lengthy excerpt of his report:

DAVID: Despite the fact that more U.S. troops are dying in Afghanistan than ever before, Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured the Senate Appropriations Committee things are not as bad as they might seem in what's now the nation's longest war ever.

(Actually, Vietnam is still longer if you date the start of that war to 1961, not the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.)

GATES: I think frankly that the narrative over the last week or so, possibly because of the higher casualties, uh, and other factors has been too negative. I think that we are uh, regaining the initiative, I think that we are uh, making headway.

DAVID: And the next big effort to make more headway is now getting underway in the birthplace of the Taliban, the southern provincial capital of Kandahar.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen told the appropriations panel the Taliban use Kandahar to train, equip, plan and intimidate:

MULLEN: It is from Kandahar that the Taliban attempt to control the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. It is my belief that should they go unchallenged there, and in the surrounding areas, they will feel equally unchallenged elsewhere. As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan.

DAVID: A military offensive on Kandahar had been planned for this month. Instead, U.S. forces are mainly involved in trying to get Afghan police established in the southern provincial capital.

In a separate hearing today, Defense undersecretary Michelle Flournoy told the Senate Armed Services Committee that reports of a delay in the Kandahar campaign have been overplayed:

FLUORNOY: If that means delaying some aspects by a little bit of time, to make sure that that Afghan ownership and leadership is in place, then, you know, we should all be supporting that.  And that is not any sign of failure at all.  It's a sign of good counterinsurgency strategy.

DAVID: Flournoy called the current approach in Kandahar "shaping". It aims to improve basic services such as electricity and policing...

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