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
  • Get to the point
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: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Senior Sales Broker - OTE £100,000

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Duty Manager is required to join one of the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Team Leader is required to join one of the l...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor