When the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan began eight years ago, there was near unanimity in Congress and among the American people that this use of military force was fully justified.
Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, were operating in Afghanistan as the so-called “guests” of the ruling Taliban; we and our international partners went in to shut them down.
Within months, the Taliban were driven from power, and most members of al-Qaeda had been killed, captured, or escaped across the border into Pakistan.
In the weeks and months following the intervention, there was considerable optimism that Afghanistan, after decades of exhausting and destructive war, might be ready for a fresh start.
But over time, as our nation’s attention turned elsewhere, it seemed that our strategy there became to simply “muddle through.”
With a substantial drawdown of our troops in Iraq on the horizon, and a worsening security situation in Afghanistan, that conflict has once again become front and center.
However, in stark contrast to the days following 9/11, there is no consensus today on how the U.S. should address the challenges we face there.
The purpose of this hearing is to help us consider the potential consequences of the various options that are now on the table.
In March of this year, the Obama Administration unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The strategy centers on the need to disrupt and defeat al Qaeda, and prevent its return to Afghanistan.
It also recognizes that, to quote President Obama, “the future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan.”
The $7.5 billion dollar assistance bill for Pakistan that Congress just passed will help strengthen Pakistan’s capability to combat terrorists who threaten its security.
Now, while keeping one eye on Pakistan, we must settle on the right approach for Afghanistan.
That decision will be made against the backdrop of increasing violence in Afghanistan.
American and coalition casualties are rising, Taliban tactics are becoming more sophisticated, and extremists are controlling an expanding swath of territory.
To make matters worse, the legitimacy of the current Afghan central government has been called into question following allegations of massive fraud in the recent elections.
This will inevitably make our job harder – and the Taliban’s job easier – no matter what course we take.
Much of the debate right now centers on General Stanley McChrystal’s reported request for a “surge” of approximately 40,000 additional American troops.
In his August 30 assessment, which reflects the input of on of our witnesses, Dr. Kagan, and other experts, General McChrystal makes a persuasive case that we should implement a “comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign,” much like we did in Iraq, in which protecting the Afghan population is the highest priority.
Other key elements of the General’s strategy include greater partnering with the Afghan security forces to improve their effectiveness, helping the Afghan government become more accountable at all levels, and improving the command structure for coalition forces.
This proposed approach raises a number of important questions.
First, does Afghanistan, which has a more dispersed and diverse population than Iraq, not to mention much more rugged terrain, lend itself to this sort of counterinsurgency campaign?
Can such a strategy succeed without significant elements of the insurgency coming over to our side, as they did in Iraq?
If not, what are the prospects for persuading the Taliban rank and file to lay down their arms?
Does it make sense to place a significant number of additional troops in harm’s way in an effort to prevent al Qaeda from coming back to Afghanistan when the terrorist group already has a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, and an increasing presence in Yemen and Somalia?
In the absence of a troop “surge,” is there an alternative counterterrorism strategy involving some combination of drone strikes and special forces that could be employed to achieve the same goals?
Finally, what are the implications for Pakistan if we do not support the McChrystal proposal? Would Afghanistan’s neighbors consider themselves better off?
To answer these and other important questions, we are fortunate to have a very distinguished panel with us here today, which I will introduce shortly.
But before I do, let me turn to the Ranking Member, the gentle lady from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for any opening remarks that she might have.