- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the successful troop surge in Iraq, on Wednesday predicted a potentially tougher “slog” in Afghanistan, but praised President Obama’s new plan as the route to victory.

The chief of U.S. Central Command told lawmakers that violence is likely to worsen, as it did in Iraq in 2007, as the last of 30,000 U.S. troops enter the country over the summer and target enemy strongholds, and as the Afghan government roots out corruption before the July 2011 start of U.S. troop withdrawals.

“While certainly difficult - different, and in some ways tougher than Iraq - Afghanistan is no more hopeless than Iraq was when I took command there in February 2007,” Gen. Petraeus told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He said the situation likely will improve by next December, when Mr. Obama is set to review his new strategy.

The dynamics of corruption inside the Afghan government, a relatively ambiguous plan for withdrawing troops and concerns about safe havens for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Pakistan continued to rankle members of Congress Wednesday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, opened the hearing with a focus on the how the U.S. would deal with Pakistan.

Lawmakers say success in the region cannot come without cribbing Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Pakistan - a task made difficult by a complex relationship with a government that, while having done more recently to fight terrorist activity within its borders, has been unable to clear the border region abutting Afghanistan.

“This challenge is especially crucial when it comes to Pakistan. I am convinced that what happens in Pakistan, particularly near the Afghan border, will do more to determine the outcome in Afghanistan than any increase in troops or shift in strategy,” Mr. Kerry said.

Members of both parties have criticized the administration for an apparent lack of a clear Pakistan strategy.

Gen. Petraeus said the mission in Afghanistan has been “sharpened” by Mr. Obama and is pretty straightforward.

“I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not Iraq. It’s also, by the way, not Vietnam. It’s not a lot of other places. It’s Afghanistan, and it has plenty of its own challenges,” Gen. Petraeus said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s request for U.S. support through 2024 led Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho to question whether the national support of Afghanistan would be open-ended, something Mr. Obama promised against in his speech last week.

“Well, probably to Karzai, 15 years isn’t an open-ended commitment. But I’ve got to tell you. To the people in the United States, 15 years is an open-ended commitment. I don’t know whose job it is to sit down with him and look him in the eye and say, look, you’re dreaming,” said Mr. Risch.

Gen. Petraeus testified Wednesday along with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew as part of a continued vetting of Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan war strategy.

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