- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Violence in Afghanistan is likely to worsen next summer as the last of some 30,000 new U.S. troops enter the country, Gen. David Petraeus told Congress on Wednesday, but the head of the military’s Central Command predicted that the situation likely will improve by next December, when President Obama is set to review his new strategy.

The situation is similar to what happened with the troop surge in Iraq and will be inflamed as U.S. forces target enemy strongholds and the Afghanistan government works to root out corruption in anticipation of the July 2011 start of U.S. troop withdrawals, said the general, considered the key architect of the 2007 Iraq escalation and the improved security situation there.

“These factors and the seasonal nature of violence in Afghanistan will undoubtedly result in an increase in security incidents in the summer of 2010,” Gen. Petraeus said in prepared remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “As in Iraq, the situation is likely to get harder before it gets easier.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, opened the hearing saying neighboring Pakistan must be the “core” focus of any Afghanistan strategy, a point lawmakers increasingly have made since President Obama announced his plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Al Qaeda terrorist leaders and fighters of the militant Taliban movement have used sites inside Pakistan as a sanctuary and training base for attacks in Afghanistan on U.S. and international forces.

“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. Lawmakers pressed Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, on Tuesday on whether troops would be able to pursue enemy forces across the border into Pakistan or would be restricted by the rules of engagement.

They continued that tack Wednesday.

“If [enemy forces] are able to sit safely across the border directing a hit-and-run war against us in Afghanistan, plotting catastrophic terrorist attacks abroad and working to destabilize Afghanistan from within, our strategic goals in the region will be threatened despite progress on the ground,” Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and the committee’s ranking GOP member, said in his opening statement.

Gen. Petraeus testified Wednesday along with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry and Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew.

• Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@washingtontimes.com.

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