ARLINGTON, Va.– The National Guard’s contribution in Afghanistan has been “extraordinary,” the commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan told Congress yesterday.

“Well, they are extraordinary,” Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. “But … sometimes someone will … say, ‘Well, they’re just as good as active-duty or active Army troops.’ … That’s not the case. In many cases, they bring unique skills, like our agricultural development teams that are around the country; [they] bring … skills and maturity active components don’t have.”

In response to a question from Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, McChrystal said that despite their differences, the Guard, Reserve and active components are working together as a team.

“They’re not exactly the same, but together they are much better,” he said.

McChrystal also said the Guard is making many sacrifices in lives lost and time away from families and employers. “I cannot say enough about their performance,” he added.

Earlier in the day, McChrystal told Senate lawmakers that the training of tens of thousands of additional, capable Afghan soldiers and police is another crucial task necessary to achieving success in Afghanistan.

“To pursue our core goal of defeating al-Qaida and preventing their return to Afghanistan, we must disrupt and degrade the Taliban’s capacity, deny their access to the Afghan population and strengthen the Afghan security forces,” he said.

This strategy, he said, requires reversing the current momentum of the Taliban, while creating “the time and space to develop Afghan security and governance capacity.”

Many of the 30,000 U.S. forces deploying to Afghanistan in coming months will be employed to combat the Taliban, McChrystal said, while others will assist NATO troops in training up new Afghan soldiers and police.

There are now between 180,000 to 190,000 Afghan security forces, McChrystal said, divided between military forces and the police. “We need to significantly increase the Afghan national security forces,” he said.

Afghan army trainers, such as those from the 48th Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia National Guard, are working hard to close the gap.

Sixteen new Afghan National Army companies, McChrystal said, are slated to deploy to Helmand province in early winter. More Afghan troops are planned to follow in the spring. “We are flowing everything we can build in the Afghan army into that area,” he said.

By the fall of 2010, McChrystal said, there should be about 134,000 Afghan soldiers and just over 100,000 Afghan police. And by July 2011, he said, there should be about 300,000 Afghan security forces divided between soldiers and police.

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