Gen. McChrystal To Testify In House, Senate
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
We know how many new troops will be heading to Afghanistan. Today, we may learn more about how they will be used. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is testifying this morning on Capitol Hill. Now Congress gets its first chance to question him about the administration's war strategy. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following this story, and joins us now live. Good morning.
TOM BOWMAN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: General McChrystal is testifying alongside his civilian counterpart, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry. Now, Eikenberry initially opposed a troop buildup, but according to his testimony this morning, I gather, Tom, that the ambassador is now onboard.
BOWMAN: Right. It appears the ambassador is now trying to paper over any differences he has with General McChrystal. Ambassador Eikenberry, in two cables to President Obama, said he was against sending a large number of troops, until we could be assured that President Karzai will be a good ally here. And, again, now he's changed along those lines. But the real problem was that he never really told General McChrystal or Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he did oppose this. This came as a shock to them, and they were quite angry about it.
MONTAGNE: Well, do you expect that Democratic lawmakers who oppose a buildup in Afghanistan will try and press Eikenberry on his original misgivings?
BOWMAN: Oh, I think that's absolutely right. I think they're going to use this as a bludgeon, not only for the troop buildup - which they opposed - but also the fact that they see President Hamid Karzai, as do many observers, as corrupt and incompetent. So I think they're going to press it on both issues.
MONTAGNE: What can we expect to hear from General Stanley McChrystal when he is questioned by lawmakers today?
BOWMAN: Well, I think he's going to talk a lot about the military options here, you know, what they say is reversing the momentum of the Taliban. He'll probably talk a little bit about going into southern Afghanistan, Helmand Province and Kandahar, where they're going to send the large bulk of the troops. That's the heartland of the Taliban. They're going to go after them down there. I think he's also going to talk about the importance of training large numbers of Afghan soldiers and police. That's the only way you get out of an insurgency, is to turn it over to local forces. So that's a key part of what he'll talk about today, as well.
MONTAGNE: And will he be talking about, you know, actually stopping the Taliban, or somehow incorporating them into the nation?
BOWMAN: Well, I think - a number of Taliban, they say, are economic Taliban. They call them $10 Tabbies, that they only do it to make a buck, that they're not ideologically driven, like a small portion of the Taliban. So they're going to try to peel them off from the main group of the Taliban, the leadership of the Taliban, and try to get them jobs and so forth and basically return to the government.
MONTAGNE: You know, we've heard a lot about the July 2011 date for the beginning of a withdrawal of U.S. troops. But when can U.S. forces start leaving in large numbers and start turning things over to Afghan forces? Are we going to hear something about that today?
BOWMAN: Well, I think that's going to be a key question from Democrats. Defense Secretary Bob Gates has already backed off on that July 2011 date. He's saying, you know, a small number or a handful of U.S. troops will pull out by then. But Democrats in particular are going to want to know when can a lot of these U.S. forces - and they'll over 100,000 by next summer - when can they really start leaving in large numbers? And that's what we don't know. And I'm not sure if McChrystal will get into that at all.
MONTAGNE: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks very much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Renee.
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