Despite a rash of recent bad news – culminating last week with the apparent slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier – the architect of the campaign didn’t step on any landmines Tuesday in testifying before Congress. Marine General John Allen seemed to calm GOP jitters by insisting he has received no guidance from the White House to begin planning a quicker withdrawal. “We are in a strategic conversation,” he said of discussions between the military and the White House. “There has been no number mentioned.”
Over the coming months, Allen said, he will draft a recommendation for U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan for 2013 and 2014 (nearly all are expected to be out by 2015; the 91,000 now there are slated to drop to 68,000 by this fall). He batted away suggestions that the Afghan war is stalemated, or even lost.
Allen’s bottom line was simple: the U.S., its allies and the Afghan government are making steady progress in training Afghan security forces to take over a greater share of the country. He cited numbers to bolster his case: “Just in the last 12 weeks, the enemy-initiated violence across the country is 25% less than it was during the same period of time the last year,” Allen said. “In the same period of 12 weeks, the civilian casualties, for example, is 74% less that it was during the same period of last year.”
Part of the dynamic of the Afghan debate – and why it wasn’t white-hot like General David Petraeus’ appearances in 2007 as the Iraq surge was underway – is simple: the surge in Afghanistan has already crested, and a third of that force is already home.
A light at the end of the tunnel – especially if it’s an illuminated “exit” sign – tends to tame Congress.