One General’s Case for Why the U.S. Should Stay in Afghanistan

Gen. Raymond Odierno’s comments come as goodwill for Karzai continues to disintegrate in Congress.

Soldiers with the United States Army's 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment are seen on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army prepare for a joint patrol with near Command Outpost Siah Choy on March 28, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Zhari District, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 12, 2014, 9:47 a.m.

U.S. forces need to stay in Afgh­anistan after the end of the year to de­fend the co­ali­tion’s re­cent pro­gress, a top De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cial said Tues­day even­ing.

“Afgh­anistan has moved for­ward quite a bit.”¦ The Afgh­anistan se­cur­ity forces are in charge. They are provid­ing se­cur­ity for the na­tion,” Gen. Ray­mond Odi­erno, the Army chief of staff, said Tues­day even­ing at a Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions event. “What they are not ready to do — their in­sti­tu­tions are not yet ma­ture enough to sus­tain this over the long time.”

Odi­erno re­cently re­turned from Afgh­anistan, but he said he didn’t meet with Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai while he was there. U.S. and NATO of­fi­cials have led a pub­lic cam­paign to get the Afghan pres­id­ent to sign a bi­lat­er­al se­cur­ity agree­ment for U.S. mil­it­ary in­volve­ment in the coun­try after 2014.

De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cials are re­com­mend­ing that the United States leave 10,000 troops in Afgh­anistan after this year — ap­prox­im­ately the num­ber the United States offered to leave in Ir­aq.

But Odi­erno echoed com­ments made at a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing Tues­day morn­ing, say­ing that the two coun­tries face dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. Ir­aq, he said, had a bet­ter eco­nomy but was at a great­er threat for sec­tari­an vi­ol­ence.

“The big­ger threat to [Afgh­anistan] is that the Taliban would come back and try to take the gov­ern­ment back,” he said.

Odi­erno’s com­ments come as a bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion last week press­ing for Con­gress to be able to vote on wheth­er the United States should keep troops in Afgh­anistan after 2014.

The Army of­fi­cial also touched on the U.S. shift to the Asia-Pa­cific, re­it­er­at­ing that des­pite cri­ti­cism from mem­bers of Con­gress and oth­er gov­ern­ments, the mil­it­ary is ser­i­ous about the re­bal­ance.

“I think that they’re watch­ing very care­fully, and they’re watch­ing to see what we do,” he said.

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