Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Under Secretary of Defense Jim Miller (left) testified before the House Armed Services panel March 20, 2012.J. Scott Applewhite/AP)Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told sometimes skeptical lawmakers Tuesday that the United States is "on track" to achieve its goals for stabilizing Afghanistan and preventing it from becoming a haven for terrorism. International forces are still planning to withdraw over the next two years, despite numerous high profile setbacks that have rattled confidence in the mission these past few weeks.
"We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaida and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban," Allen, the Marine Corps general who oversees the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
"To be sure, the last couple months have been trying," Allen acknowledged, pointing to the recent Quran burnings episode, the subsequent attacks by Afghan security forces that killed 13 foreign troops, and the massacre early last week of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier. "Each of these events is heart wrenching."
But, Allen assured lawmakers, the overall relationship between foreign and Afghan forces remains solid. The international coalition is "well along" in making progress in the transition plan, which calls for training Afghan national security forces to take the lead in securing their own country by the end of 2014.
Lawmakers raised numerous questions about the transition plan, with some voicing growing impatience with the United States still being in Afghanistan at all.
"Why are we still there?" an exasperated Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) asked Allen, who testified to the panel with the top Pentagon civilian policy adviser, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller. "We're spending $10 billion a month we can't even pay for. ... When does Congress [hear] testimony, 'We have done all we can do? Bin Laden is dead.'"
But Allen held his ground. Under the current transition plan under way, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) "will move to the front," Allen responded. "If I think that [plan] is coming off the rails, Congressman, I will let you know that."Read More »from U.S. commander John Allen says Afghanistan transition plan is ‘on track’