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Kerry's middle road

From NBC's Libby Leist
Back from his recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sen. John Kerry said today Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan for surging tens of thousands of U.S. troops into Afghanistan "reaches too far, too fast." But, he also warned against any large pullout of American forces.

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations committee, argued that more U.S. troops would not produce results if Afghan security forces are not effective and the governing and development capabilities of the Afghan government are lacking.

"The bottom line is that deploying additional troops won't result in sustainable gains if the Afghan security, civilian and governance capacity isn't there," Kerry said. "And right now, as our generals will tell you, in many places, too many places, it isn't."

He continued, "We do not yet have the critical guarantees of governance and of development capacity, the other two legs of counterinsurgency. And I have serious concerns about the ability to produce effective Afghan forces to partner with at the rate that we need to so that we can ensure that when our troops make heroic sacrifices, the benefits to the Afghans are actually clear and sustainable."

Kerry said in order for him to support more troops there must be a "valid assessment" not only by the military but by President Obama and others on the civilian side about whether the three conditions of Afghan security, governance and development can be met.

"Under the right circumstances, if we could be confident that military efforts can be sustained and built on," Kerry said, "then I would support the president, should he decide to send some additional troops to regain the initiative."

Kerry made the case for the middle-ground option: a limited counterinsurgency strategy with the potential for deploying more troops. He argued that civil war could break out between the Taliban and the Afghan government if the Administration decided to scale back troop levels for a narrow counterterrorism mission. He also said there are simply not enough troops for a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign.

Kerry took a hit at former Vice President Cheney and the Bush administration early in the speech: "Make no mistake: Because of the gross mishandling of this war by past civilian leadership, there are no great options for its handling today. One American officer captured well our lack of a strategy when he said, 'We haven't been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years. We've been fighting in Afghanistan for one year eight times in a row.' That is our inheritance."

Kerry said success in Afghanistan will be when the U.S. can "empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by al Qaeda or the Taliban."

"We now have to choose a smart way forward so that no one is ever compelled to ask whether we've made a mistake in staying," he said.