Levin and McCain Meet McChrystal and Eikenberry
And here we are at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The two leaders of the committee have their own issues with the Afghanistan strategy, judging by last week’s hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) would have preferred that President Obama surged Afghan security forces, not U.S. troops. “Our Achilles heel,” he said in his open statement, is “a shortage of Afghan troops” to hold villages that U.S. forces clear.
Levin cites a ratio of five U.S. troops per Afghan soldier operating currently in Helmand Province — he introduced it last week — which leaves him worried about the sustainability of the strategy. “What our witnesses can clarify is at what point in the ‘clear, hold, build, and transfer’ process the Afghan forces will take over responsibility for an area’s security,” Levin said. He also wants to know about the tribal/local-based so-called “Community Defense Initiative” and its “strengths and weaknesses.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supports the strategy. But he has misgivings about the July 2011 “inflection point” beginning a transition to Afghan security forces. (Levin called the date “reasonable.”) McChrystal has batted those away this morning. “Still,” McCain said, “the fundamental problem remains: we’ve announced a date divorced from conditions on the ground when we will start to withdraw our troops.” On this issue, “the administration and I will just have to agree to disagree.” And with McChrystal as well.