But both McChrystal and Eikenberry replied that the administration was ultimately providing a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, even if the U.S.-led combat phase would diminish over time. McChrystal said setting the date for beginning a “conditions-based” transition would help navigate Afghans’ complex feelings about the presence of foreign troops on their soil. “The guarantee that we, the coalition, will support them but not stay too long is actually a positive,” McChrystal testified. Eikenberry emphasized that the Obama administration envisioned a “long-term relationship with Afghanistan, a diplomatic relationship, a long-term economic assistance relationship” after the ultimate departure of U.S. troops.
The general said he expressed such confidence in his strategy because the Taliban was “not credible as a political entity,” earning acquiescence from Afghans only through the lack of a credible alternative from the Afghan government and its NATO allies. As the U.S. flows forces into southern and eastern Afghanistan to establish “contiguous security” for the population, “the next 18 months will likely be decisive,” McChrystal said. “Rolling back the Taliban is a prerequisite to the ultimate defeat of al-Qaeda.”
In an attempt to quash media speculation about a chilly relationship between Eikenberry and McChrystal, the two men made a show of their professional partnership. Eikenberry saw his internal doubts about a U.S. troop increase leak to the media last month. But ambassador said that he firmly supported the administration’s strategy and was “exactly aligned with Gen. McChrystal.” The general returned the compliment by gesturing to Eikenberry and saying, “The person I listen to most is about three feet on my right.”