Gen. James Mattis, USMC, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the July 2011 date in Afghanistan was "not a handoff of a hot potato" to leave the country, but designed to give the Afghan government and its security forces a sense of urgency in their fight against the Taliban.
Nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Central Command, he said the end state in Afghanistan was to break the Taliban, crush al Qaeda and build governance and security capacity in that country and neighboring Pakistan.
Mattis also said he expected American and NATO casualties to rise in the summer and fall as military operations are stepped up.
"My immediate priority will be the campaign in Afghanistan," he said.
"Violence and progress coexist in Afghanistan," he said, and "nothing about this mission will be easy." Mattis called the Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremist groups such as the Haqqani network "barbaric and medieval" who "deliberately kill innocents [because they] know their politically bankrupt message cannot win at the ballot box."
Adding, "We are the good guys, yet we are not perfect; regrettably we make mistakes about which we are candid and constantly strive to correct." Mattis added.
"I think we’re having growing trust" between the United States and Pakistan and also a "growing trust between Afghanistan and Pakistan" in rooting out extremists on both sides of the border. "We are remaining in the region. We are not leaving."
Later in answer to a question, he added, "I think we are on the right track" in a regional approach to the security and political issues confronting the two nations.
Mattis, in answer to another question about whether some elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service are helping the Taliban, said, "That is correct."
As to metrics to measure progress in Afghanistan, Mattis said some of the most important are "the most difficult to quantify," such as the shifting of opinion. He cited the Sunnis in al Anbar Province in Iraq as an example of that when they moved from assisting al Qaeda there and running their own insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad to attacking al Qaeda and providing for their own defense.
"Al Qaeda is in doubt" about its future in Afghanistan; "we’re going to have to press against the Taliban" and "break the reconcilable and the irreconcilable" to achieve peace in the country. "This is the enemy we have to confront."
Adding, "Partnering [with Afghan and International Security Assistance Forces] is absolutely the right way to go." He noted that about 85 percent of the additional American forces due in Afghanistan by September are in place and slightly more than 70 percent of the additional NATO forces are in place.
Mattis, now serving as commander of U.S Joint Forces Command, said Russia is being helpful in Afghanistan by opening supply routes to the northern part of the country.
On Iraq, he said the drawdown to 50,000 soldiers was on schedule and pledged to assist Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin in all possible ways when he assumes command there.
Mattis said the drawing of political boundaries in the north, particularly around Mosul, and the division of oil revenue among regions remains a key political issue in Iraq. "The slow pace [of building a new coalition government] may give us more confidence in the political future."
Iran "offers the greatest long-term challenge in the region as it continues to threaten regional and global stability by pursuing a nuclear weapons program and by funding, arming and training military proxies throughout the region," Mattis said.
He called the release through WikiLeaks of 90,000 classified documents on the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009 an "appallingly irresponsible" thing to do. He added while it likely would not make U.S. commanders more reticent to give their frank appraisal of events he was "more concerned with our allies being more circumspect" in their shared appraisals of events.
Confirmation is expected. He would succeed Gen. David Petraeus, now commanding all coalition forces in Afghanistan.