Violence in Afghanistan will likely climb in the short-term, along with internal government turmoil, U.S. General David Petraeus told Congress on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to reserve judgment for a full year on President Barack Obama’s new war strategy.
Petraeus, who as head of U.S. Central Command is in charge of drawing down forces in Iraq and overseeing a new surge of 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said he expected increased fighting in Afghanistan in the spring and the summer.
He also said the Afghan government’s expected moves to combat corruption likely would result in “greater turmoil within the government as malign actors are identified and replaced.”
“It will be important, therefore, to withhold judgment on the success or failure of the strategy in Afghanistan until next December, as the president has counseled,” Petraeus said.
Petraeus, who in his previous role as the top Iraq commander oversaw a surge of forces in 2007 that was credited with helping pull that country back from the brink, cautioned that progress in Afghanistan would not be as quick as in Iraq.
“Achieving progress in Afghanistan will be hard and the progress there likely will be slower in developing than was the progress achieved in Iraq,” Petraeus said.
The general, a favorite among Republicans who had a high public profile under former President George W. Bush, was the latest U.S. official to go before Congress to defend Obama’s new war strategy announced last week.
Petraeus expressed his full support for Obama’s plan and called success in Afghanistan “necessary and attainable.”
All of the additional 30,000 U.S. forces are expected to be deployed by the summer or fall, aiming to reverse Taliban momentum and allow for a gradual withdrawal starting in July 2011, according to Obama’s plan. The United States already has about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan.
RISK TO DEMOCRATS
Analysts say that a perceived deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan with the new war strategy could hurt Obama’s Democrats in 2010 mid-term congressional elections, further eroding public support for the costly, eight-year-old war.
Officials, including Petraeus, appear to be bracing the public for trouble ahead, including rising casualties.
“Violence likely will increase initially, particularly in the spring as the weather improves,” Petraeus told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He warned that the situation in Afghanistan was “likely to get harder before it gets easier.”
“None of this will be easy. Improving the capacity of the Afghan government will also be difficult,” he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said it would be 15 to 20 years before his country could afford the new, larger Afghan security force the U.S. believes is necessary to secure the country and allow for a U.S. security handover.
Petraeus said that the target-level of 400,000 Afghan soldiers and police that the U.S. hopes to eventually field would cost over $10 billion a year — far less than an expected $30 billion to $35 billion annual price tag for the surge.
“I would submit that it is a lot cheaper to maintain a certain number of Afghan forces than it is to maintain the number of U.S. and coalition forces required to compensate for their absence,” Petraeus said.
U.S. officials, including Petraeus, have stressed that long-term stability in neighboring Pakistan is crucial to U.S. military success in Afghanistan,
Petraeus suggested that despite increased insurgent violence and political challenges to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, the military, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 62-year history, would not again seek power.
“I actually don’t think the current challenges imperil civilian rule,” he said.
“There clearly are challenges, potential challenges, to President Zardari, but again I don’t see the prospect or the desire for anyone to change civilian rule.”