WASHINGTON - Less than a year from the scheduled start of
withdrawing some troops from Afghanistan, opinions remain varied about exactly what will happen when the transition begins at the end of June 2011.
The Obama administration has made clear some troops - no one can say how many - will start withdrawing by next July from stable areas where Afghan forces can provide security.
However, questions over how to measure success and whether the almost 9-year-old war is worth the continuing U.S. investment in lives and resources are gaining prominence as congressional mid-term elections approach in November.
In interviews with military and political leaders broadcast Sunday,
scenarios presented on what happens next year ranged from guarded optimism to serious concern. While most views followed expected party talking points, all appeared grounded in the common belief that success is vital even as they differed on what it would be.
The Netherlands became the first NATO ally to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan on Sunday as it handed over its mission in southern Afghanistan's Uruzgan province to U.S. and Australian forces.
At the peak of their commitment, the Dutch had nearly 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some staff units remain in Afghanistan, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, but the Dutch government said the last of its troops will return by December.
Fight the Taliban "relentlessly." Don't tolerate corruption. Drink "lots of tea" with the locals.
Those admonitions are among the two dozen guidelines for counterinsurgency warfare that Gen. David Petraeus issued to U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan on Sunday. In his first major public pronouncement since taking command in early July, Petraeus urged American troops and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to learn and adapt to the culture of Afghanistan while battling the Taliban insurgents and their allies.
"The decisive terrain is the human terrain," Petraeus wrote. "The people are the center of gravity. Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF prevail."