Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member made the following statement at today’s hearing, “The U.S. Presence in Afghanistan Post-2014: Views of Outside Experts”:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today. Syria may be driving Afghanistan out of the headlines these days, but we still have more than 60,000 U.S. service men and women there, and success in Afghanistan is still vital to our national security.
I recently returned from Afghanistan; I travelled there with Duncan Hunter and Derek Kilmer of this committee. It was apparent on our trip that our men and women in uniform, the Afghan National Security Forces, and our partners participating in the International Security Assistance Force have made tremendous progress in pushing back the Taliban and giving Afghanistan a chance for success in the future. High-profile attacks still happen, the Taliban still controls or influences pockets of Afghanistan, but the Taliban are simply not, at least for now, in any position to overthrow the government of Afghanistan.
The next year will show if this situation can be maintained or if Afghanistan will slide back into civil war. Before October 2014, the United States and Afghanistan will have to conclude negotiations on a new Bilateral Security Agreement and the Afghans will hold presidential elections and need to have a peaceful and legitimate transfer of power -- all while U.S. troops levels are greatly reduced. If these challenges can be met, Afghanistan’s future prospects will be substantially brighter and U.S. national interests will be protected by an Afghanistan that can prevent the return of al Qaeda.
These outcomes are far from guaranteed. There are issues that could certainly derail the Bilateral Security Agreement negotiations. Domestic politics, either in Afghanistan or even here, could interfere. The Afghan election process could be corrupt, illegitimate, and widely rejected by the Afghan people. Or the next Afghan government could ultimately be rejected by large swaths of the population if it is seen as illegitimate and not inclusive. Any of these would threaten the current progress in Afghanistan and undermine prospects for success.
The United States is in a position to help Afghanistan through these transitions. I returned from our trip believing that it is in the interests of the United States to announce a sufficient post-2014 presence in Afghanistan to reassure the Afghan people and the Afghan National Security Forces. I believe we should continue to support the security forces through funding and the provision of training and advising for the next few years, albeit at declining levels over time.
Signaling our continued support should enable the Afghan political system to make the changes necessary to increase the legitimacy of the government and undermine the public perception that large parts of the Afghan government are abusive, incompetent, and corrupt. But our aid must be conditional; a blank check of support will not further reform in Afghanistan and the American people will not support lives and funding wasted on behalf of an Afghan government that drives people into the arms of the Taliban. Conditioning our aid and assistance on governmental improvement will reinforce those elements in Afghanistan who want to make the government work better and defeat the Taliban. I hope our witnesses today can help us think through these questions — specifically, what sorts of aid are appropriate going forward? What reassurances do we need to provide to the Afghan government and people? How do we properly condition such aid to reinforce the efforts of Afghan reformers?
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.