February 15, 2007
Contact: Lynne Weil, 202-225-5021
Lantos Calls on President to Improve Situation in Afghanistan with a “Surge” in Troops There, Rather than Iraq
Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today countered the Administration’s latest announcements on Afghanistan by calling for a more creative approach emphasizing counter-narcotics, greater involvement by the Afghan people and an increase in U.S. troop strength there rather than in Iraq.
President Bush delivered a speech this morning pointing to some of the progress that has been made in Afghanistan, but not acknowledging grim setbacks such as the Taliban resurgence and an economy choked with illegal opium trade. He noted that he had asked Congress for $11.8 billion to fund efforts in Afghanistan for the next two years, and was extending the term of a unit already deployed there. Additionally, the Pentagon announced yesterday that a brigade of about 3,200 would deploy this spring to Afghanistan instead of Iraq.
The president made his remarks this morning at the same time as the Foreign Affairs Committee started a hearing on Afghanistan featuring testimony from experts in academia, politics and defense.
“I am pleased to note that as we conduct this hearing, the President has decided to send 3,000 additional American troops that were originally going to Iraq to Afghanistan, presumably as a ‘surge’ to counter the expected Taliban spring offensive,” Chairman Lantos noted. “I think the President should be bolder and send all of the 22,000 troops of the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan, where they could actually make a difference.”
Lantos called for “stronger counter-narcotics efforts, Afghan engagement, and holding our allies accountable” as part of a new strategy in Afghanistan. “The gloves must come off if we are to prevail against the Taliban and the drug lords,” he said. “This is a crucial year for Afghanistan.”
Lantos pointed out at the hearing that for several years, he has been calling on the U.S. and NATO’s military leadership in Afghanistan to change their policy of ignoring narco-trafficking.
“Right now, they will only destroy opium stockpiles and drug laboratories if they happen to come across them during other combat operations,” he said. “We have been told that the military ‘doesn’t do counter-narcotics,’ even as they admit that narcotics profits feed our battlefield enemies. After several years of record opium harvest and rampant drug corruption with no end in sight, we no longer have the luxury of indulging in this artificial and meaningless distinction.
“We need to reverse this trend now. I call on our own government and on NATO to immediately create and deploy counter-narcotic interdiction combat units to go after drug kingpins, warlords and Afghan officials that process and traffic opium.”
Lantos noted that poppy eradication and rural development programs are key parts of diversifying the Afghan economy and converting it from one based on the opium trade. “But relying solely on long-term, incremental, multi-year campaigns of eradication and development will not do the job alone,” he said. “The place is awash in opium, and we need to drain the swamp.”
Lantos traveled to Afghanistan three weeks ago with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several colleagues in the national security leadership of the House.
“It was painfully clear that with the current security situation, and with indications of a new assault by the Taliban planned for this spring, things could well fall apart,” Lantos noted. “Afghanistan is once again on the brink. …
The United States and our allies face a pivotal decision. We cannot continue to under-commit our resources to this crucial effort in the first front in the global struggle against terrorism.”
The full text of Chairman Lantos’ remarks is at www.foreignaffairs.house.gov