WASHINGTON — The general chosen to lead US Central Command declared that victory in Afghanistan was possible and expressed optimism yesterday that troops would start coming home in a year.
General James Mattis, the tough-talking Marine who helped lead the invasion of Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he supported the strategy in Afghanistan laid out by President Obama and General David Petraeus.
If confirmed as expected, Mattis would replace Petraeus at Central Command and oversee US military operations across the Middle East and parts of south Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. Petraeus left the assignment to take over operations in Afghanistan after General Stanley McChrystal was fired.
“We will have some bad days ahead, but so long as we hold fast and adapt faster than the enemy, the enemy’s situation will continue to worsen,’’ Mattis told lawmakers.
Mattis defined success in Afghanistan as propping up an Afghan government that is stable enough to keep extremists from using the country as a terrorist base.
Republicans used the confirmation hearing to press Mattis on Obama’s decision to begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan next year. Mattis said he supported the decision because the deadline is contingent upon security conditions at the time.
“It’s a date when a process begins,’’ Mattis said. “It’s not a handoff of a hot potato.’’
Mattis also defended the US relationship with Pakistan. Internal military documents leaked this week suggest that US officials have long regarded Pakistan as an untrustworthy partner against militants who use the country as a safe zone.
Calling the leak “grossly irresponsible,’’ he said he believes that cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism is at an “all-time high.’’
The US-Pakistan relationship is “trending in the right direction,’’ he said.
Mattis said he is probably most concerned about Iran, including its desire to enrich uranium that could be used to build a nuclear bomb. He added that Al Qaeda and its affiliates have helped destabilize Yemen to the point where its government is losing control.
Countering “the enemy network’’ requires “an integrated response that applies constant pressure,’’ said Mattis, who in 38 years has commanded every type of unit from platoon to division. He is currently in charge of the US Joint Forces Command that crafts doctrine and joint-service training for the military and overseas readiness.
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.