(CNSNews.com) -- NATO’s top military commander for Europe, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, indicated Wednesday that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is not concerned with the proposed start of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011. This is in apparent contrast to what other Afghan officials told a recent congressional delegation that visited the country.
"I saw President Karzai in an interview last night saying that the 2011 date does not concern him -- it helps focus things," the NATO commander told the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), a news agency run by the Department of Defense. "I think that's a good way to think about it."
Stavridis’ remarks came one day after a delegation of GOP senators, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), held a news conference on Capitol Hill to discuss their recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
McConnell, who was joined on the trip by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), told reporters that Afghan and Pakistani officials with whom they talked were uneasy about the U.S. commitment after July 2011.
“With regards to the deadline of summer of ’11, I think it is somewhat of a problem for both the Afghans and for the Americans over there in terms of our willingness to stay,” said Senator McConnell.
Senator Wicker said that government and military officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan “will tell you that the July 2011 withdrawal date is a problem.”
Idaho’s Senator Crapo told reporters that there seems to be “a deficit of trust” about the withdrawal.
“What I mean there is that, both in terms of Pakistani officials as well as Afghanistan officials, they have a concern about whether the United States is going to finish the job, and this is creating concern in both Pakistan and in Afghanistan,” Crapo said.
Alaska Senator Murkowski added that President Karzai was one of the leaders with whom the delegation had spoken.
Obama administration officials, meanwhile, have indicated that the July 2011 withdrawal date is a way of showing that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan is not open-ended and that – rather than being a set reality -- marks the beginning of transitioning responsibility to the Afghan government.
According to the AFPS report, Stavridis echoed that sentiment.
"I'm very confident, as we get forward to 2011, we're going to have serious momentum in this area, because we're putting very significant resources against it from the whole NATO alliance," said Stavridis. "It will be job number one."
Stavridis was also optimistic about making progress in Afghanistan by the time the U.S. is scheduled to begin phasing out its troop presence.
"I have great confidence that, as we get forward toward 2011, we're going to have significant progress," he said. "If we do that, we will be able to start transitioning over to an Afghan security force lead, and that's going to be the key."