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Just back from Afghanistan, Marine Commandant, Gen. James Conway held a news conference Tuesday to add his voice to the Pentagon campaign to disparage the July 2011 date President Barack Obama set for U.S. troops to begin leaving Afghanistan
Conway claimed that intelligence intercepts suggest that this deadline has strengthened the conviction of those resisting the U.S.-led occupation is that it is just a matter of time before most foreign forces leave.
"In some ways " it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. " We think he may be saying to himself " "Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.'"
Conway, however, was quick to reassure supporters of the war in Afghanistan that Taliban morale is likely to drop when, "come the fall [of 2011] we're still there hammering them like we have been."
Conway began his press conference by adding a new measure to the refrain led by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, that considerable time will be required before Afghan forces can take over from U.S. troops.
The Marine general said, "I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us," adding, "When some American unit somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghan forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines."
President Obama and his generals have emphasized that any withdrawal will be "conditions based," much as President George W. Bush did regarding Iraq. But setbacks in Afghanistan over the past several months -- in particular, the failure of the large Marine campaign to secure Marja, a rural area of Helmand province -- have made it abundantly clear that "conditions" are not likely to favor more than a token withdrawal next July.
On a June visit to Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen discussed the setbacks with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. Mullen admitted, "We underestimated some of the challenges" in Marja, which the Marines tried to clear in March, only to have Taliban fighters return.
"They're coming back at night, the intimidation is still there," said Mullen. Marja had been widely advertised by the Pentagon as the warm-up for driving the Taliban out of Kandahar beginning in June 2010.
The U.S. military postponed the campaign against Kandahar in May, and Mullen conceded that, "It's going to take until the end of the year to know where we are" there.
Top Brass vs. President
The Obama administration's reluctance to discipline senior generals for comments bordering on insubordination seems to have encouraged the generals to believe they could speak their minds with impunity about President Obama's management of the Afghan conflict.
The exception to this rule was the extraordinary case of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan until he became the subject of a Rolling Stone article, "Runaway General," in which McChrystal and his military inner circle were quoted as mocking Obama and the civilian leadership.
The title had an ironic twist since the derogatory comments enabled McChrystal to run away from the consequences of his stumbling war effort, by getting himself fired. After Marja and the abject failure of his campaign to win hearts and minds of most Afghans, McChrystal knew better than anyone that the war was hopeless.