- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2009

Senators from both parties confused by President Obama’s Afghanistan war plan pressed administration officials on Thursday to clarify the plan to surge troop levels and then begin withdrawing them in 18 months on the second consecutive day of hearings about the new strategy.

“I would say I have pretty average intelligence, and it’s still pretty unclear to me what we’re doing,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton quickly blamed former President George W. Bush for the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and other terror-linked forces have re-emerged forcefully as U.S. military efforts focused on Iraq and al Qaeda fighters there.

“I don’t blame you or anybody else for wondering where we are because of the history we inherited and our effort to make sense and rationalize what is happening,” Mrs. Clinton said Thursday.

Mrs. Clinton recounted meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and his saying, “I’m confused,” when relaying changes in the American military and civil strategy over the years.

Mr. Obama has laid out a plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the coming months and then begin withdrawing troops in 18 months to put pressure on the Afghans to take control of their country.

But the quick turnaround is raising red flags among lawmakers concerned it will embolden the enemy. Others fear it is the first step in an open-ended commitment to the eight-year effort.

“Can you tell the committee that, in fact, after July of 2011 we won’t have tens of thousands of troops for years after that?” Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, asked Mrs. Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“When I hear these dates, I think they are as solid as quicksand and, at best, aspirational,” Mr. Menendez said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates did not say how long significant numbers troops would stay in Afghanistan.

“This is what I would describe as a Rubik’s Cube on steroids,” Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican, said of the political and national security struggles in Afghanistan.

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