July 2011 deadline for Afghan troop withdrawal harmful: McCain
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 23:49
Washington: The July 2011 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is "unrealistic" and "harmful," Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday at Gen David Petraeus' confirmation hearing which was marked by bickering over the Afghan war policy.

McCain said the people of Afghanistan will be far less willing to support the administration when they know that the forces will withdraw as early as July 11.

"What we're trying to do in Afghanistan, as in any counterinsurgency, is to win the loyalty of the population, convince people who may dislike the insurgency, but who may also distrust their government, that they should line up with us against the Taliban and al Qaida," McCain, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said, in his remarks at the confirmation hearing of Gen Petraeus.

"We're asking them to take a huge risk, and they will be far less willing to run it if they think we will begin leaving in a year," he said.

Obama last December set the deadline for the American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and administration officials said this was vital to bring out results.

But Republicans have not been happy with such a decision.

McCain said a US Marine has put the situation in this way: "They (the people) say you'll leave in 2011, and the Taliban will chop their heads off".

The same goes for the Afghan government, he argued.

"We're told that setting a date to begin withdrawing would be an incentive for the Karzai administration to make better decisions and to make them more quickly. I would argue it's having the opposite effect. It's causing Afghan leaders to hedge their bets on us," he said.

The Republican Presidential candidate in the 2008 American election said this was not only making the war harder, but longer.

"If the president would say that success in Afghanistan is our only withdrawal plan, whether we reach it before July 2011 or afterwards, he would make the war more winnable and hasten the day when our troops can come home with honour, which is what we all want," he said.

He said in addition to being "harmful", the July 2011 withdrawal date increasingly looks "unrealistic".

"That date was based on assumptions made back in December about how much progress we could achieve in Afghanistan and how quickly we could achieve it," he said adding that war never works out the way one assumes.

McCain said the performance of the Afghan government over the past seven months was not as rapid as was hoped.

"None of this is to say that we are failing or that we will fail in Afghanistan. It just means that we need to give our strategy the necessary time to succeed.

"We cannot afford to have a stay the course approach to starting our withdrawal in July 2011, when the facts on the ground are suggesting that we need more time," he said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, meanwhile said the date was importance, as it "imparts a sense of urgency to Afghan leaders" and is an important method of "spurring action."

Supporting the deadline, Petraeus, who will replace Gen Stanley McChrystal as US' top commander in Afghanistan said: "I saw (the establishment of the date) most importantly as the message of urgency to accompany the message of enormous (increased US) commitment".


First Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 23:49

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