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Nominee For U.S. Envoy In Kabul: 'Time Of The Essence'

Karl Eikenberry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination.
WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan, Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, has appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to present his credentials and answer questions about his qualifications.

Eikenberry’s nomination is a departure from the usual practice of choosing career foreign service officers for key ambassador posts, but he is expected to easily win confirmation in the Senate.

In his opening statement, Eikenberry told members of the committee that the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan has created a situation so dire that urgent action is needed to deliver more military and civilian resources.

"The situation in Afghanistan is increasingly difficult and time is of the essence," Eikenberry said. "There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice."

Eikenberry knows the challenges and major players in Afghanistan well, having led military forces there twice -- most recently for 18 months as the top U.S. commander of combined forces. His appointment has the support of Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke.

His nomination has so far met no opposition in Congress and his confirmation could come as early as next week. The current ambassador to Afghanistan, William B. Wood, has been in the post since 2007.

Anticipating Problems

Eikenberry brings a unique set of qualifications to the job. He is a graduate of America’s top military college and is fluent in Chinese. He is a scholar of Chinese history, including ancient Chinese military history, and has two master's degrees -- one in East Asian studies from Harvard and another in political science from Stanford.

He has a reputation for anticipating potential problems in Afghanistan before they arise, and is credited as one of the first officials to warn of the Taliban’s resurgence. When he served as chief of military cooperation, with responsibility for developing Afghan security forces, he was an early proponent of beefing up the capacity and capability of the Afghan Army.

He told the committee that more work on that score is needed.

"Critical to our collective progress is helping the Afghans strengthen and expand their national army and police, so that they have the essential capability to secure their own country," Eikenberry said.

:The way ahead is clear, but the resources to date have regrettably been insufficient. The United States, our international partners and, most importantly, the Afghans must work together to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law. Without real progress on these issues, success will be very difficult to achieve," he added.

As the deputy chairman of NATO’s military committee in Brussels, Eikenberry is said to have strong ties with European allies, whose troops are essential to the Afghan mission.

'Sobering Reality'

In his testimony on March 26, Eikenberry called it a “sobering reality” that Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's illegal drug market. That, it turn, finances the insurgency, he said, which undermines Western efforts to build a stable form of government. He said as ambassador, he would make it a top priority to review the U.S.'s counternarcotics policy.

Eikenberry also signaled his belief that more development and aid should be directed to areas of the country where the insurgency has developed a stronghold, with particular focus on getting help to the Afghan people. He criticized the amount of development money currently being spent on what he called "costly overheads -- namely, foreign consultants, multiple contracts and security."

Toward the end of his testimony, Eikenberry aimed his remarks directly at the Afghan people, telling them that any success they have is America’s success, as well.

"It's evident to me, after having the privilege of serving in your country, that you share with Americans an overwhelming desire to live in peace, with dignity," he said. "With our support, you'll further develop accountable governance, a patriotic army and police that serve to protect you, access to health care and education and employment opportunities to provide for the livelihoods of your families.

"When you achieve your goals, international terrorists will find no refuge inside of Afghanistan And this is precisely where your interests, America's interests, and indeed the interests of the entire world come together. Your success is our success."

Eikenberry confirmation hearing came the day before the Obama administration is expected to publicly unveil a new, broader strategy for Afghanistan, including new initiatives in support of neighboring Pakistan.