WASHINGTON -- Leading Republican lawmakers and the Afghan ambassador to the United States are voicing opposition to President Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan starting next year.
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, appearing on the Sunday talk shows while in the Afghan capital, said Obama's decision to start pulling out in July 2011 is a mistake and will embolden Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists. The senators and the Afghan envoy, Said Tayeb Jawad, said withdrawal should be based on a conditions on the ground, not a fixed date.
Their comments came as Gen. David Petraeus assumed command of the 130,000-strong international force in Afghanistan. "We are in this to win," he said, at a time of growing casualties and skepticism about the nearly 9-year-old war. Petraeus backs the withdrawal plan but has stressed it will also be based on conditions.
McCain, a former Navy pilot and the ranking Republican on Senate Armed Services Committee, called the deadline "indecipherable" and said it "certainly sounds an uncertain trumpet" to both allies and foes.
"I know enough about warfare," the Arizona senator said. "I know enough about what strategy and tactics are about. If you tell the enemy that you're leaving on a date certain, unequivocally, then that enemy will wait until you leave."
Graham, R-S.C., said a deadline could cripple the war effort by creating "confusion and uncertainty."
"In my view, if people think we're going to leave, we have no chance of winning," he said. "It has hurt. It needs to be clarified. This confusion has hurt, hurt our friends, and emboldened our enemies."
"Gen. Petraeus needs this monkey off his back," Graham said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a veteran of three combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the July 2011 date "is weighing down on every commander's shoulders, from lieutenants to three-star generals."
"I think it's going to be tough. I don't think we can do it in a year," he said.
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said the deadline "sent a message to the Afghans, to the Taliban, to people in the neighborhood we're going to leave regardless."
"We've got to win it. And therefore, you don't put that on a time line," he said from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Jawad, the Afghan envoy, echoed that sentiment, saying an artificial deadline is "frankly not" a good idea.
"If you overemphasize a deadline that is not realistic, you're making the enemy a lot more bold, you're prolonging the war," he said. "That deadline should be realistic, that deadline should be based on the reality on the ground. And we should give a clear message to the enemy, to the terrorists who are threat to everyone, that the United States, NATO and Afghans are there to finish this job."
Jawad also denied reports that the Afghan government was not doing enough to fight graft and he rejected charges that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is himself corrupt. Such allegations have triggered deep concern in Washington and raised questions about the amount of aid the U.S. provides to Afghanistan.
"There is no evidence whatsoever," he said. "President Karzai is the most hardworking president in Afghanistan. He is the most sincere partner the United States has in Afghanistan and the region."
McCain was on ABC's "This Week," Graham spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation," Jawad and Hunter appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," and Lieberman was on "Fox News Sunday."