Karl Eikenberry, Once a Skeptic, Backs More Afghanistan Troops

By Lubold, Gordon | The Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Karl Eikenberry, Once a Skeptic, Backs More Afghanistan Troops

Lubold, Gordon, The Christian Science Monitor

At Capitol Hill hearings Tuesday, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and Gen. Stanley McChrystal backed the decision to send 30,000 more US troops there. Eikenberry had earlier told Obama he opposed more Afghanistan troops.

The top two US officials in Afghanistan said Tuesday they both strongly support President Obama's new strategy including the decision to send as many as 33,000 more troops there. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Amb. Karl Eikenberry presented a united front at Capitol Hill despite the fact that Ambassador Eikenberry in recent weeks had cautioned against deploying more troops to a country rife with corruption.

"I believe the course the president outlined does offer the best path to stabilize Afghanistan and ensure Al Qaeda cannot regain a foothold to plan new attacks against us," said Eikenberry Tuesday at the House hearing. "I can say without equivocation that I fully support this approach."

Eikenberry and McChrystal, the top military officer in Afghanistan, appeared on Capitol Hill Tuesday for the first time since Mr. Obama announced his plans to deepen US involvement in Afghanistan with as many as 33,000 additional troops, with the aim of beginning to draw down by mid 2011.

But the onus was mainly on Eikenberry to explain his position after the leaking of two diplomatic cables sent by him to the White House during the three-month deliberation on war strategy, in which he expressed deep concern about sending additional troops to Afghanistan. Eikenberry reportedly wanted to see more progress on reducing corruption from President Hamid Karzai's government.

The cables were at odds with his military counterpart, McChrystal, who was seeking tens of thousands of additional troops. But on Tuesday, Eikenberry said the new strategy has given the mission a narrower focus that is achievable, and that there was now no light between the two men's positions on the mission.

"I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal here to my right in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission," Eikenberry said.

McChrystal was was reported to have asked for as many as 40,000 American troops, but said Tuesday he supports Obama's deployment of 30,000 troops - and as many as 3,000 support troops on top of that. He also said he was OK with the president's setting a deadline of July 2011 for beginning to remove troops.

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