WASHINGTON – Despite a recent wave of murders of U.S. servicemembers by Afghan security forces, the United States will stick with its strategy based on battlefield partnership between troops from the two nations, the commander of U.S. Central Command told Congress on Tuesday.

Gen. James Mattis told legislators that most Afghan troops have maintained discipline during a wave of public anger following the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops.

“Even their performance during the last two weeks – disciplined, restrained, standing by us – is an indication that this is a force that has come a long way,” he said.

There will still be stumbles, said Mattis, who appeared with Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

“I’d remind everyone that even Jesus of Nazareth had one of 12 go to mud on him,” Mattis said

The United States is on track to end its combat role in December 2014, he said. The goal of having 352,000 Afghan security troops in service will be reached this spring, months ahead of schedule, he said.

Brewing conflicts in the Middle East dominated much of the hearing, with Arizona Sen. John McCain repeating his call for an attack Syria, saying that assisting the Syrian opposition with supplies and logistics won’t do the job.

“The only realistic way to do it is foreign air power, and the time has come for it,” McCain said.

He appeared to grow irritated after Mattis said he believed Al Qaida was operating within the Syrian resistance.

“You know what that flies in the face of, general?” McCain said. “People who yearn for liberty and not living under an oppressive, brutal dictatorship.”

Mattis said stopping the Syrian regime’s violence would require international cooperation.

Mattis also told legislatorsthat al-Qaida is beginning to make a comeback in Iraq in the wake of the U.S. pullout, and beginning to make its presence felt in Baghdad.

McRaven told legislators special operations forces are operating in about 78 countries worldwide, with about 80 percent of the deployed force in Central Command.

Carrollc@stripes.osd.milTwitter: @ChrisCarroll_

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now