Levin: U.S. can succeed in Afghanistan

The top Senate Democrat in charge of military affairs on Wednesday ended a three-day trip to Afghanistan with a message of optimism that the U.S. mission can still succeed.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he sees a higher confidence among U.S. military leaders and Afghan leaders that the war against insurgents can be successful.

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"Our counterinsurgency strategy is taking hold," and both the U.S. troops and Afghans are "comfortable" with it, Levin said.

Levin said President Barack Obama’s announcement late last year of a troop surge, along with a troop reduction beginning in July 2011, has brought a marked improvement in stability and optimism among Afghan leaders.

Levin spoke from the Dubai airport after traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), and said there is “real partnering going on” between U.S. and Afghan officials.

“There is a significant increase in optimism about the possibility of success,” Levin said.

Levin's trip comes a month after Obama announced an increase of 30,000 additional U.S. troops. Levin had disagreed with the troop surge, preferring instead that the U.S. send more trainers, more equipment and more logistics and intelligence personnel.

However, Levin said only 37 percent of the necessary personnel are in place to train recruits into the Afghan domestic security forces, with the shortage slowing efforts to grow the Afghan army and increase stability.

“That is really inexcusable,” he said of the shortage.

Franken and Levin’s trip included a meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who told Levin that Obama’s announcements had convinced Afghan leaders that the U.S. military commitment was not open-ended.

The senators also met with Lt. Gen William Caldwell, commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, and said Caldwell told them that new Afghan recruits started pouring in after Obama's announcement.

The troop surge will come with a price tag of about $33 billion, which Levin said he expected administration officials will soon seek from Congress. The senator said he did not foresee any problems with the request.

Levin also said Wednesday he expected to hold a committee hearing by the end of the month on the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gay personnel. The hearing will include Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.