Afghanistan: Assessing The Road Ahead
Secretary of State
(9:30 a.m. EST)
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Thank you very much, Chairman Kerry and Ranking Member Lugar, and to all the members of this Committee. It is an honor for me to be here to testify before you, and also to continue the dialogue. Both the Chairman and the Ranking Member’s statements, as would be expected, were extraordinarily thoughtful, raised a lot of the hard questions that we’re grappling with, and posed the challenges that we have to meet, both the Administration and the Congress together. And I want to thank the Committee for the constructive role that it has played in helping us to address the difficult issues raised in the region of the world that we are focused on today.
When President Obama addressed the cadets at West Point, he set forth both the rationale and the difficult choices that his policy represents. At the end of a very long and thoughtful process that consisted of 10 meetings with the President and his national security team and probably three times that many among the rest of us without the President, the President concluded that among a range of very difficult decisions, this is the best way to protect our nation now and in the future.
The extremists who have taken root in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan have attacked us before, they’ve attacked our allies, they are now attempting to destabilize, if not overthrow the Pakistani Government and take back enough control, if not the entire country of Afghanistan. We believe that if we allow Afghanistan to become a failed state, if we allow the extremists to have the same safe havens that they used before 2001, they will have a greater capacity to regroup and attack again, and also to continue to provide the leadership, the operational and logistical support that they currently provide to global extremism. We believe they could drag an entire region into chaos, and we know that based on the reports from our military and civilian leadership, the situation in Afghanistan is serious and worsening.
Now, I know we don’t want to go back in history and anchor our decision totally on what happened on September 11th, 2001. But I think it does have to be part of the national debate. The damage done with those attacks against our economic and military power centers was also an attack on my constituents, because at that time, I had the honor of serving as senator from New York. I witnessed the tragic consequences to the lives of thousands of innocent families, the damage done to the economy, and the damage to our sense of security. So I feel a personal responsibility to help protect our nation from such violence, and I entered into the very intense consultations we’ve been engaged in with that as my overriding goal, but without any preconceived notion of exactly the best way to meet that goal.
The case for action against al-Qaida and its allies has always been clear. But the United States’ course of action over the last eight years has not. The fog of another war obscured our focus. And while our attention was focused elsewhere, the Taliban regained momentum in Afghanistan and the extremist threat grew in Pakistan – a country, as you know well, with 175 million people, a nuclear arsenal, and more than its share of challenges. So it was against this backdrop that the President called for this careful, thorough review of our strategy.
Our objectives are clear. We will work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to eliminate safe havens for those plotting against us, our allies, and our interests. We will work to find reliable partners in the region to help us stabilize it, which we think is fundamental to our national security. We will develop a long-term, sustainable relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, primarily our abandonment of that region. The duration of our military presence will be limited, but our civilian commitment must continue even as our troops begin coming home.
Now, accomplishing this mission and ensuring the safety of the American people is not easy. It does mean sending more civilians, troops, and assistance to Afghanistan and significantly expanding our civilian efforts in Pakistan, which we have begun to do under the leadership of the Chairman, the Ranking Member, and this Committee. We will be asking the young men and women who not only serve in the military, but are part of our civilian service team, to be taking great risks and facing extraordinary sacrifices. I want to assure the Committee that we will do everything we can to ensure that their sacrifices make our nation safer.
Now, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is serious, but it is not, in my view, as negative as frequently portrayed in public. The beginning of President Karzai’s second term has opened a new window of opportunity. We obviously have real concerns about the influence of corrupt officials in the Afghan Government, and we will redouble our efforts to pursue them. But in his inauguration speech last month, I witnessed President Karzai call for a new compact with the Afghan people and the international community. He pledged to combat corruption, improve governance, and deliver. His words were long in coming, but they were certainly welcome. They now must be matched with action.
The Afghan people, the United States, and the international community must hold the Afghan Government accountable. We will help by working with our Afghan partners to strengthen institutions at every level. The President has outlined a timeframe for transition to Afghan responsibility. As he said in his speech, the additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate our handing over of responsibility to Afghan forces as we begin to transfer our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. This is not a cliff; this is a transition. The timeframe for the transition provides a sense of urgency in working with the Afghan Government. But it should be clear to everyone that unlike the past, the United States and our allies will have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. Our resolve in this fight is reflected in the commitment of troops since the President took office, and in the significant civilian commitment that will continue long after our combat forces begin to leave.
Our civilian effort is already bearing fruit. Civilian experts and advisors are helping to craft policy inside government ministries. We are engaged in a process of certifying those ministries that we feel confident in providing funding for, and we will not provide it if we cannot certify them. When our Marines went into Nawa this July, we had civilians on the ground with them to coordinate assistance the very next day. As our operations progress, our civ-mil coordination is growing even stronger. We are on the track to triple the number of civilian positions in Afghanistan to 974 by early next year. When we started, there were about 320. They had six-month rotations. Our checking of their duty roster showed that a lot of them didn’t spend more than 30 to 60 days inside of Afghanistan even though they had been assigned there. We have totally revamped how we are providing civilian assistance. And we believe that we are beginning to make a difference.
Each of these civilians leverage not only, on average, 10 partners from locally employed staff to experts with U.S.-funded NGOs, but what we’re finding most interestingly is they leverage expertise within the United States military. When you put an agricultural expert in – embedded in a battalion, and along with the commanding officer of that battalion, they go looking for soldiers with ranching and farming experience, we have a real force multiplier.
And when I was Kabul two weeks ago meeting with our civ-mil teams, those are exactly the kind of stories that I was told. And the military who are responsible for the clearing phase of our military operations told me repeatedly how important the civilian presence was. As one said to me, I’m happy to supply whatever support these valuable civilians need, and we need more of them. This strategy will make that possible.
Not only do we believe we have the right people to achieve our objectives, we believe we have a sound strategy. We’ll be delivering high-impact economic assistance and bolstering Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, the traditional core of the Afghan economy. A number of my former colleagues have talked with me in the last months about the importance of agriculture and how they tried for eight years to help create jobs, reduce the funding that the Taliban receives from poppy cultivation; in effect, draw insurgents off the battlefield by moving them from poppies to pomegranates. Well, we have taken that advice seriously.
We also will support an Afghan-led effort to open the door to those Taliban who are willing to renounce al-Qaida, abandon violence, and wish to reintegrate into Afghan society. We understand that some of those who fight with the insurgency do not do so out of ideology, theology or conviction, but frankly, due to coercion and money. The average Taliban fighter is – our information – receives two to three times the monthly salary than the average Afghan soldier or police officer.
Our regional diplomacy complements this political approach by seeking to mitigate external interference in Afghanistan and working to shift the calculus of neighboring countries, and that, of course, leads me to Pakistan. A strong, stable, democratic Pakistan must be a key partner for the United States and an ally in the fight against violent extremism. We’ve seen progress over this past year as people in Pakistan increasingly come to the view that we do share a common enemy. I heard that repeatedly during my recent visit. But we have a long way to go. We will significantly expand support intended to help develop the potential of Pakistan and its people, demonstrating a long-term commitment.
I spent three days in Pakistan last month and most commonly I heard over and over again, you left us before, will you do it again? You walked away. You left us holding the problem that you helped to create. We want to send a clear message, as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation does, that we intend to be committed over the long term.
We will not be facing these challenges alone. We have 42 other troop contributing countries. Our NATO-ISAF allies have already made significant contributions. After this hearing, I will leave for Brussels to begin the process of securing additional Afghan commitments. Ambassador Holbrooke is already there consulting with our allies. We’ve had a very encouraging response in the conversations we’ve had thus far. And we’re looking beyond NATO to build the strongest, broadest possible global coalition. Japan just announced a $5 billion commitment to Afghanistan. We think other governments are beginning to recognize that this is a common fight against a common enemy.
So let me conclude where I began: We face a range of difficult choices, but the President’s plan represents the best way we know to protect our nation today and in the future. The task we face is as complex as any national security challenge in our lifetimes. We will not succeed if people view this effort as the responsibility of a single party, a single agency within our government, or a single country. We owe it to our troops and our civilians who will face these dangers to come together as Americans and come together with our allies and the international partners to help accomplish this mission.
I look forward, as always, to continuing to work with you to achieve that goal. Thank you.
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