© Agence France-Presse/Brendan Smialowski
US Marine General Joseph F. Dunford
The incoming top commander in charge of the United States' military efforts in Afghanistan made remarks to Congress on Thursday that suggest he sees a US presence extending overseas well past US President Barack Obama's deadline of 2014.
Gen. Joseph Dunford told members of the Senate this week that he envisions the US continuing its operations in Afghanistan indefinitely, dismissing the president's long-standing promise to end America's lengthiest war during the next two years.
"[W]e'll be there beyond 2014 to secure our objectives," Gen. Dunford told lawmakers on the Hill early Thursday as he fielded questioning from Congress before they agree with Pres. Obama's decision to make him the new commander of the Afghanistan war.
Most recently the four-star officer has been tasked with serving as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, a role that has made him responsible for directing combat forces in the now-defunct Iraq war.
Despite pleas to soon end the war from Pres. Obama delivered throughout his first term in office, on the campaign trail while vying for a second term and, most recently, during his re-election victory speech, the likely next commander of US troops in Afghanistan sees the US staying overseas for the unforeseeable future. Speaking to the the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general suggested that the US cannot retire from its war overseas until the Afghan National Security Forces are properly trained to battle the insurgents that led then-President George W. Bush to send Americans into war after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
"It's a question of confidence in the Afghan people that we will remain, confidence in the Afghanistan national security forces that we will remain," confidence in the "capitols that we will remain," and confidence among "regional actors that we will remain," Dunford said.
"That area is still ripe for sanctuary for al-Qaeda," Dunford told the panel, adding that the US must up its game in order to match increasingly powerful opposition.
"We know we have an adapting, thinking enemy," Dunford said. "If I'm confirmed, that issue will be at the top of my inbox."
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a long-time supporter of the war and a veteran of the US military himself, made remarks to Dunford that seemed to suggest that his plans for a perpetual war might not be in the best interest 11 years into the operation.
If the US "can't accomplish the mission, I'm not sure why we should stay," McCain remarked.
Pres. Obama has earlier in 2011 signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan's Pres. Hamid Karzai to vow support from Washington through "diplomatic means, political means, economic means and even military means" to help Afghanistan. According to White House, that document "provides for the possibility of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for the purposes of training Afghan Forces and targeting the remnants of al-Qaeda, and commits the United States and Afghanistan to initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede our current Status of Forces Agreement."
"As our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country," Pres. Obama said when he signed the deal in May 2012, just shy of the one-year anniversary of the execution of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
During last month's vice presidential debate, VP Joe Biden celebrated the execution of bin Laden as a hallmark of the Obama administration and said it was reason enough to withdraw before 2014.
"The fact is, we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans," Biden said. "We've decimated al-Qaeda central. We have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose. And, in fact, in the meantime, what we said we would do, we would help train the Afghan military. It's their responsibility to take over their own security. That's why with 49 of our allies in Afghanistan, we've agreed on a gradual drawdown so we're out of there by the year 20 - in the year 2014."
"But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period."