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Top general to testify about Afghanistan amid impasse over U.S. troop presence

Mar. 11, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Enduring Freedom
The U.S. still has not reached a security agreement with Afghanistan, and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford will likely face questions from lawmakers about how much longer the military can wait for a decision. (Lance Cpl Robert R. Carrasco/Marine Corps)
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Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander in Afghanistan, will testify on Capitol Hill Wednesday about the situation on the ground amid a continuing standoff with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is refusing to sign a security agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year.

Karzai, whose term in office is coming to an end, has said his successor should be the one to sign the agreement with the U.S. government. Presidential elections are slated for April, but if no clear winner emerges, a runoff election will be held later in the year.

Senators are likely to ask Dunford how much longer the U.S. military can wait for a decision on whether troops can stay in Afghanistan beyond December. The general also may be questioned about how reliable Karzai is as a partner and whether the country would fall apart if all U.S. troops left.

Relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have been further strained by the Afghan government’s decision in February to release 65 detainees whom NATO called “dangerous individuals,” drawing a rare public rebuke from NATO.

“Detainees from this group of 65 are directly linked to attacks wounding or killing 32 U.S. or coalition personnel and attacks wounding or killing 23 [Afghan National Security Forces] or Afghan civilians,” Army Lt. Col. William Griffin told Military Times last month.

President Obama has not yet decided how many troops would remain in Afghanistan beyond this year if the security agreement is approved, according to the National Security Council.

Dunford has proposed keeping 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2017. But another option being considered calls for leaving 3,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, stationed in Kabul and Bagram Airfield.

In his memoir “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote that the Obama administration has been suspicious of military commanders, especially during the discussions leading up to the Afghan surge, when White house officials felt commanders were trying to pressure Obama to escalate the war.

“Suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials — including the president and vice president — became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military commanders,” Gates wrote.

Vice President Joe Biden favored sending fewer troops to Afghanistan and later relentlessly argued that the surge was not working, Gates wrote.

Gates’ criticism of Biden does not seem to have hurt Biden’s standing in the White House or his influence on national security issues.

“I don’t think anybody who has covered us or knows the president and the vice president, knows how this White House functions, has any doubt about the president’s faith in Vice President Biden as an advisor and counselor,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a Jan. 8 news briefing.

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