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McChrystal Rolling Stone remarks spotlight Afghanistan withdrawal timeline

General McChrystal's Rolling Stone remarks, which were critical of US officials, have turned the spotlight on disputes over Afghanistan withdrawal timeline.

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“It is far from clear that ISAF and the US have as yet won any tactical victories they can exploit in ways that bring lasting stability,” Anthony Cordesman, a former top Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in a report last week. “One thing is clear: The war will be lost if 2011 is treated as a deadline and/or if the … Afghan people, the Pakistani government and people and our allies perceive it as a deadline.”

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To be sure, the administration is still signaling it will stay the course beyond next summer. Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan said that the US isn’t going to abandon Afghanistan. Mr. Holbrooke was a target for McChrystal’s ire in the story (aides to McChrystal said their boss believes Holbrooke fears he is about to lose his job and so is “dangerous… like a wounded animal”) .

“I think it’s very clear that we’re not leaving in July of next year, we are starting combat troop withdrawals,” he told reporters in Germany last week. “If the West were to turn away from Afghanistan again, as we did in 1989, that would be a disaster. But the message doesn’t always get out.”

Afghan government supports McChrystal

The brash McChrystal has been at odds with administration officials before. Last year Obama called him in for a dressing-down after he called Vice President Biden’s proposal to avoid a massive surge and nation-building in favor of concentrating on Al Qaeda “short-sighted,” something that was widely seen at an attempt to pressure Obama to choose the surge.

But he’s also built a strong relationship with Karzai. Diplomats here say McChrystal is the US official that Karzai – whose relations with other US leaders turned sour over last year's fraud-marred presidential election – trusts most. Afghan officials have urged that McChrystal keep his job, saying that firing him would stymie progress and undermine a security operation under way in Taliban strongholds in the country's south.

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