Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following opening statement at today’s hearing on Afghanistan:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today.
“We have made significant progress in achieving our goal in Afghanistan to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent its return to Afghanistan. The death of Osama bin Laden and the decimation of al Qaeda’s senior leadership over the last few years at the hands of our brave men and women of our military and intelligence services have made America safer. On the ground in Afghanistan, our military, with our ISAF and Afghan partners, has done tremendous work, particularly over the last couple of years, to push the Taliban out of the south and southwest of Afghanistan and to vastly increase the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Those forces are now conducting 95% of all conventional operations and the vast majority of all special operations. The progress made to date has gone a long way to better position the Afghan government, and the Afghan people, for success.
“That is not to say that the road has not, especially recently, been difficult. Many of us have been frustrated over the years by the criticism and intransigence of the outgoing Karzai government, by the current political crisis over the election, by the delays in signing a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), and by the actions of the Pakistanis, to pick a few examples. But frustrated as we might be, we are in Afghanistan, assisting the Afghans to fight the Taliban and rebuild a stable and secure Afghanistan, for the benefit of our national security interests, and we should keep those paramount in our mind as we consider the way forward.
“We should not underestimate the challenges we and the Afghan people face as we attempt to secure those interests. Afghanistan is, and will be for some time to come, a poor country, with a largely uneducated population, plagued by groups that use violence to achieve their goals, and with a government that is often both incompetent and corrupt. In the immediate future, the Afghan people are facing the fallout of a bitterly contested presidential election where it is unclear that a political deal will be reached allowing for a peaceful transition of power; the drawdown of ISAF forces and what seems to be some increase in Taliban attacks; and economic challenges that will almost certainly accompany that drawdown.
“Fortunately, our mission is not to build a perfect Afghanistan, but solely to help build an Afghanistan that is capable of denying the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies a safe place to operate. In the short term, that means providing the Afghans with assistance in solving their election crisis. It means helping as we can to ensure that the transition of power is as smooth as possible. Hopefully, that new president will sign the BSA to provide a stable, legal basis for the future presence of our troops and our NATO partners in Afghanistan so that those troops can help the Afghan people in their pursuit of a stable, secure Afghanistan.
“I support a limited, residual United States military presence in Afghanistan after December 31, 2014, to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces and conduct counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda and other potential threats as necessary. I believe such a presence, limited in size initially and declining over time, to be the best way to secure our national security interests in that region. It is also the best way to oversee the provision of assistance that the Afghans will certainly require if the ANSF is to remain a viable force and the country is to not descend once again into civil war.
“I am hoping our witnesses can help us flesh this out a little. Assuming the election crisis is resolved and the BSA is signed, what do the Afghans need to do to secure their country, prevent the return of the Taliban, and ensure that Afghanistan cannot become a safe haven for terrorism? What assistance do they require from the United States to build that security going forward? What part of that assistance would be provided by the Department of Defense, and specifically by the U.S. and international troops comprising a residual presence? How big or small would that residual force have to be to carry out that assistance, conduct counter terrorism missions, provide for force protection, and finish the retrograde of U.S. equipment? What are the trade-offs when we consider the geographic scope of such a presence? How long do you think we would have to maintain such a presence and what force levels and mission sets would be required over time?
“If, due to a failure in reaching a deal to solve the election crisis, a failure to sign the BSA, or something else, such a presence becomes impossible, we will need to rethink our approach, but our interests in the region will not change and will have to be pursued through other means. I hope you can help us think that through as well. Our primary mission in that region is completing the elimination of core al Qaeda, so what would we have to do to finish that job? What are the risks to Afghanistan, to the region, and to our security interests if we cannot maintain a residual force in Afghanistan and how can we compensate for that?
“Again, thank you for appearing here today. I hope you can help us think through how we finish this job as soon and effectively as we can, so we can bring to a close our war in Afghanistan and bring our brave servicemen and women home.”