WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s choice to be the top commander in Afghanistan said Thursday he envisions a U.S. presence in the country after American combat forces leave at the end of 2014, despite a national war-weariness reflected in Congress.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps who has directed combat forces in Iraq, said the two main missions would be counterterrorism and assisting and advising Afghan security forces. Pressed on the size of the residual force, Dunford declined to provide specifics but did say 1,000 troops would be insufficient.
“I believe that advise-and-assist role is an enduring role and would extend past December 2014,” Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing.
The general’s testimony came at a time of extreme change in the administration’s national security team and the looming decision on the pace of drawing down the 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., indicated that a decision on the withdrawal timetable could come in a matter of weeks.
Missing from the Senate hearing was Gen. John Allen, the current commander in Afghanistan who has been nominated to take charge in Europe. Allen’s nomination is suddenly on hold as he’s ensnared in a sex scandal that had led to the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.
Allen is now the subject of a Pentagon investigation for potentially inappropriate communications.