ANNE FLAHERTY ANNE GEARAN Associated Press Writers WASHINGTON
Top Obama administration officials warned Congress this morning about "severe consequences for the United States and the world" if a troop surge fails to halt a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Democratic allies of President Barack Obama expressed fears that the U.S. is shouldering too much of the military burden as the administration tried to make its case in Congress a day after Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan, some as early as Christmas. Obama also revealed a goal of commencing a U.S. troop withdrawal by the summer of 2011. "Failure in Afghanistan would mean a Taliban takeover of much, if not most, of the country and likely a renewed civil war," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Taliban-ruled areas could in short order become, once again, a sanctuary for al-Qaida as well as a staging area for resurgent militant groups on the offensive in Pakistan." The insurgency already has gained "dominant influence" in 11 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also appeared with Mullen and Gates before the committee. Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin expressed serious misgivings about the troop escalation when the Afghan security force remains small and weak. "It seems to me that the large influx of U.S. combat troops will put more U.S. Marines on street corners in Afghan villages, with too few Afghan partners alongside them," he said in his opening remarks of the hearing. Despite the war's waning popularity among voters, there were few protesters on hand as Gates, Mullen and Clinton testified in a cavernous hearing room. Unlike 2007, when the Bush administration's troop build up in Iraq prompted angry chants by protesters, there were only three visible members of the famed "Code Pink" anti-war group. They held up signs denouncing the troop buildup and calling the war hopeless.