Afghan withdrawal date bolsters enemy says General

President Barack Obama's July 2011 date to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has given a morale boost to Taliban insurgents, who believe they can wait out Nato forces, the top US Marine said yesterday.

But retiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing "tired" of the 9-year-old war.

Conway's unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama's war strategy ahead of US congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

"In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance," Conway, the Marine Corps' commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

"In fact we've intercepted communications that say, 'Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.'"

Supporters of Obama's July 2011 date to start withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, conditions permitting, say it conveys a needed sense of urgency to Kabul. Afghans must quickly ramp up the size of their security forces for a gradual handover.

But critics say the strategy backfired, sending a signal to the Taliban that the United States was preparing to wind down the war while setting unrealistic expectations among Americans about the pace of progress in Afghanistan.

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: "We can either lose fast or win slow."

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

"We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011," Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

"Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines."

Violence across Afghanistan has reached record levels despite the presence of almost 150,000 US and Nato troops. US and Nato forces have also stepped up operations after the Taliban insurgency spread out of the South and East into once relatively peaceful areas of the North and West.

Conway's comments were the latest in a series of acknowledgments by top US military officials of the challenges in Afghanistan, which appear to minimize the likelihood of any substantial change in the conflict by next July.

One of those challenges is training Afghan troops to take over from US forces as they withdraw.

US Lieutenant General William Caldwell said on Monday the training of Afghan forces still faced big hurdles and that it will take until late October 2011 to build up Afghanistan's police and military before they can take the lead in more than just isolated pockets of the country.

Conway said he believed the Taliban were in for a surprise once they realize next July that US forces were remaining, and in large numbers. That would damage the "enemy psyche."

"If Marines will be there after 2011, after the middle of 2011, what's the enemy going to say then? You know, what's he going to say to his foot troops?" Conway asked.

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

One of the biggest challenges facing the US military is winning American support for the war, Conway said.

"I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war," Conway said.

He pointed to opinion polls showing unfavorable views of the war in Britain and the United States.

"I think we, the military leadership, have to do a better job of talking about the last chapter of this book if we simply try to walk away," Conway said.

"I don't think that we have done a strong enough job in convincing the American people that there are good and just reasons why we have to destroy the al Qaeda and the associated Taliban in Afghanistan."

The Afghan Taliban issued a statement on Tuesday rejecting some recently claims of progress in the war. The Taliban said attacks were increasing around the capital as well as in their heartland in the South.

"Stop sacrificing your sons and daughters for a war which is unwinnable," spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said in a statement e-mailed to media by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the title used by the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn