BBC BLOGS - Mark Mardell's America
« Previous | Main | Next »

A blunt view of Afghan deadline

Mark Mardell | 23:02 UK time, Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Conway.jpgThe man in charge of the United States Marines, who has just returned from a tour of Afghanistan, has said President Obama's plan to start withdrawing troops next summer has given sustenance to the enemy.

General James Conway said that it will be a few years before the time is right to hand over to Afghan forces in some key areas.

The assessment by the Commandant of the Marines, who are fighting in the most critical areas of Afghanistan, is the most blunt so far from a senior military figure.

He says America is growing tired of war, but his troops sense conditions are turning their way. He said their only concern was expressed by a person to told him to not let the country go wobbly on us.

General Conway said that he did not believe that conditions would be right in Helmand and Kandahar to hand over to Afghan forces for a few years. And he suggested the president's date for the beginning of the withdrawal gave the wrong signal. It's worth quoting at length:

"In terms of the July '11 issue, you know, I think if you - if you follow it closely, and of course we all do, we know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011. In some ways, we think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. We think that he may be saying to himself - in fact we've intercepted communications that say, 'Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.'"

"But let me give you a different thought, okay? If you accept what I offered earlier as true, that Marines will be there after 2011 - after the middle of 2011, what's the enemy going to say then? You know what he is going to say to his foot troops - when you've got the leadership outside the country trying to direct operations within because it's too dangerous for them to be there?

And the foot troops have been believing what he's saying - that they're all going to leave in the summer of next year. And come the fall, we're still there hammering them like we have been.

I think it could be very good for us in that context, in terms of the enemy psyche and what he has been, you know, posturing now for really the better part of a year."

So the general suggests that if the Taliban listen to the president, their morale will improve.

If, however, they listen to him, and he is right they will lose face.

James Conway is due to retire in the autumn, and the Obama administration will regard him as something of a maverick. Or at least that is what they would like us to believe.

Despite his belief that weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq and his very fierce opposition to gays in the military, I can't see much that suggests he's a real wild card.

Certainly the administration won't take any action.

After the sacking of General McChrystal, they aren't looking for another dust up.

The president can't afford to lose another senior figure, particularly one who is headed for the exit anyway.


or register to comment.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.