ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: The top US commander in Afghanistan told Congress today that he expects to see significant progress to take place in that country over the next 18 months that will lead to a “critical decisive point” in that country.
Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out a timeline of how he sees progress developing over the next year and a half in Afghanistan as 30,000 more troops will arrive by next summer to push US troop levels to almost 100,000. “By next December, when I report back to you in detail, I expect that we'll be able to lay real progress out that will be clear to everyone," McChrystal told House lawmakers. "And by the following summer of July 2011, I think the progress will be unequivocally clear to the Afghan people. And when it's unequivocally clear to them, that will be a critical, decisive point."
Later in the day, both he and US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenbery, both told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they had seen progress since October, when Afghanistan’s election controversy was resolved.
McChrystal said the fight against the Taliban had improved “dramatically” and Eikenberry cited “very significant improvement” on the political front as a result of the end to the election crisis and the positive feedback from President Hamid Karzai’s inaugural address. In that address Karzai pledged to take on corruption and set a goal of having Afghan security forces taking full responsibility for security in the country within the next five years.
Eikenberry said that the Obama administration’s decision to set July 2011 as the date on which that security transition would begin had received a positive response from Karzai’s government.
“President Karzai's initial reaction to it was positive,” said Eikenberry. “He said we need that kind of pressure, we want to stand up. But at the same time, as General McChrystal has said, we're going to have to be cognizant of Afghanistan's long-term needs for security.”
He added that “we're seeing more confidence being displayed right now from President Karzai's administration.” Eikenberry said he was cautiously optimistic that some “generally good ministers” would be named to Karzai’s new cabinet in the next few days in a reflection of his new anti-corruption stance.
On the security front, McChrystal said the partnering of US forces with Afghan Army troops was increasing daily. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., had told McChrystal that during a recent visit to Afghanistan a marine commander had told him, “Our Achilles heel in Afghanistan … is not a shortage of U.S. troops. It's a shortage of Afghan troops.”
McChrystal said more Afghan troops are on the way and they will be partnered with US troops. According to McChrystal there are currently 16,700 Afghan Army troops partnering with US troops in southern Afghanistan and those numbers will continue to increase as every Afghan new soldier is pushed to that part of the country.
“We are fielding, as we speak, this month 1,900 additional Afghan National Army soldiers between December and January. That's 16 new ANA companies -- all will go into the Helmand area.”
Overall, McChrystal told Senate lawmakers, “I absolutely believe that we, and I mean the government of Afghanistan with coalition help, can defeat the Taliban … where they can no longer accomplish their objective of threatening the government of Afghanistan.”
What will it take to defeat Al-Qaeda? Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden would help, said McChrystal, calling him an iconic figure whose “survival emboldens Al-Qaeda as a franchising organization across the world.”
“It would not defeat Al-Qaeda to have him captured or killed, but I don't think that we can finally defeat Al-Qaeda until he is captured or killed,” he said.