By John T. Bennett - 03/15/11 02:36 PM EDT
Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday urged senators to “take a sufficiently long view” of the Afghanistan war, which is increasingly unpopular with voters.
Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. and NATO officials “need to focus not just on the year ahead” but on ensuring Afghan forces can take the lead in most operations “by the end of 2014.”
To that end, “we need to take a substantially long view to ensure progress is sustained,” Petraeus said.
U.S. commanders have altered campaign plans “to look beyond 2014,” Petraeus said. He added that this move has reassured Afghan partners while drawing considerable concern from the Taliban.
Petraeus began his testimony after the release of a Washington Post-ABC News poll in which 64 percent of those surveyed said they believed the Afghan conflict is no longer worth fighting.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the panel’s ranking member, noted the new poll’s findings, but said the American public “and especially this Congress ... must remain committed.”
Instead of a withdrawal of American forces this summer, McCain said what might be required is a “reinvestment” of U.S. troops within Afghanistan, which would involve shifting forces from less secure to more secure areas.
Citing “hard-fought achievements in 2010 and 2011,” Petraeus said, “the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas.”
But that success, he added, is both “fragile and reversible.”
Pentagon officials warned the lawmakers of tough fighting in coming months as the brutal winter gives way to the annual spring fighting season.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy, said the Pentagon will begin drawing down some forces from a recent “surge” in coming months.
It will be a “process, not an event,” with decisions based on conditions in specific areas, she told the panel.
Panel Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he continues to press President Obama to approve a proposal to swell Afghan security, police and military forces by 70,000 individuals.
While no Senate Armed Services Committee Democrat called for a full and immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, one House liberal took that step
"The war in Afghanistan … has been given more than a chance to work," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said in a statement. "It's done none of the things it was supposed to do.
"It hasn't eliminated the terrorist threat. It hasn't destroyed the Taliban," Woolsey said. "It hasn’t advanced national security objectives. It hasn't promoted a vibrant democracy in Afghanistan.”
It has, in her view, "practically bankrupted the country with an overall price tag of 'more than $386 billion.'"
Current war plans are "unsustainable," Woolsey said. "In the name of moral decency and fiscal sanity, it’s time to bring the troops home."
This post was updated at 5:55 p.m.