(9:30 a.m. EST)
Chairman Levin, Senator McCain, members of the Committee, I am grateful for this opportunity to testify before so many former colleagues and friends. My experience on this Committee helped form my views on many of the issues facing our nation. And it’s a privilege to be here before you now in this different role.
Yesterday, President Obama presented the Administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and I will all be providing you with additional details. But let me speak briefly at a more personal level about why we are making this commitment. Simply put, among a range of difficult choices, this is the best way to protect our nation now and in the future.
The extremists we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan have attacked us and our allies before. If we allow them access to the very same safe havens they used before 2001, they will have a greater capacity to regroup and attack again. They could drag an entire region into chaos. Our civilian and military leaders in Afghanistan have reported that the situation is serious and worsening, and we agree.
In the aftermath of September 11th, I grieved with sons, daughters, husbands, wives whose loved ones were murdered. It was an attack on our country and an attack on the constituents I then represented. I witnessed the tragic consequences in the lives of thousands of innocent families and the damage done to our economy and our sense of security. So I feel a personal responsibility to help protect our nation from such violence.
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 gained momentum in Afghanistan. And the extremist threat grew in Pakistan – a country with 175 million people, a nuclear arsenal, and more than its share of challenges.
It was against this backdrop that President Obama called for a careful, thorough review of the strategy. I was proud to be a part of that process, which questioned every assumption and took nothing for granted. And our objectives are clear: We will work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to eliminate safe havens for those plotting to attack against us, our allies, and our interests; we will help to stabilize a region that we believe is fundamental to our national security; and we will develop a long-term, sustainable relationship with both Afghanistan and Pakistan so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The duration of our military presence is not open-ended, but our civilian commitment must continue even as our troops begin eventually to come home.
Accomplishing this mission and ensuring the safety of the American people will not be easy. It will mean sending not only more troops, but more civilians and more assistance to Afghanistan, and significantly expanding our civilian efforts in Pakistan.
The men and women carrying out this military-civilian mission are not members of a list or items on a PowerPoint slide. They are our friends and neighbors, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. And we will be asking them and the American people to make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security. I want to assure this Committee that I know takes its oversight responsibility so seriously that we will do everything we can to make sure their sacrifices are honored and make our nation safer.
The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is serious, but it is not, in my view, as negative as frequently portrayed in public. And the beginning of President Karzai’s second term has opened a new window of opportunity. We have real concerns about the influence of corrupt officials in the Afghan Government, and we will continue to pursue them. But in his inauguration speech last week that I was privileged to attend, I witnessed President Karzai’s call for a new compact with his country. He pledged to combat corruption, improve governance, and deliver for the people of his country. His words were long in coming, but they were welcome. They must now be matched with action. The Afghan people, the United States, and the international community must hold the Afghan Government accountable for making good on these commitments. We will help by working to strengthen institutions at every level of Afghan society so we don’t leave chaos behind when our combat troops begin to depart.
The President has outlined a timeframe for transition to Afghan responsibility, something that President Karzai assumed would happen, and which we took as a very good sign of a renewed understanding of the necessity of Afghanization. That transition will begin in the summer of 2011, when we expect Afghan security forces and the Afghan Government will have the capacity to start assuming ownership for defending their own country. As the President has said, we will execute the transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. But we think a timeframe for such a transition will provide a sense of urgency in working with the Afghan Government.
It should be clear to everyone that unlike the past, the United States, our allies and partners have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region. So our resolve in this fight is reflected in the substantial commitment of troops and in the significant civilian commitment that will continue long after combat forces leave. That civilian effort is already bearing fruit. Civilian experts and advisors are helping to craft policy inside government ministries, providing development assistance in the field, and working in scores of other roles. When our Marines went into Nawa this July, we had civilians on the ground with them to coordinate assistance the next day. And as operations progress, our civil – our civ-mil coordination is growing even stronger.
We are on track to triple the number of civilian positions in Afghanistan to 974 by early next year. On average, each of these civilians leverages 10 partners, ranging from locally employed staff to experts with U.S.-funded NGOs. It’s a cliché to say we have our best people in this job – in these jobs, but it happens to be true. When I was in Kabul a few weeks ago, I met with an American colonel who told me that while he had thousands of outstanding soldiers under his command, none of them had the 40 years of agricultural experience of the USDA civilian serving alongside his battalion, or the rule of law and governance expertise of their civilian experts from the State Department. He told me: “I’m happy to supply whatever support these valuable civilians need. And we need more of them.” The President’s strategy will make that possible.
Not only do we have the right people to achieve our objectives; we also have a sound strategy. We will be delivering high-impact assistance and bolstering Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, the traditional core of the Afghan economy. This will create jobs, reduce the funding that the Taliban receives from poppy cultivation, and draw insurgents off of the battlefield. We will also support an Afghan-led effort to open the door to those Taliban who renounce al-Qaida, abandon violence, and want to reintegrate into Afghan society. We understand some of those who fight with the insurgency do not do so out of conviction, but due to coercion or money.
So, all Afghans should have the choice to pursue a better future if they do so peacefully, respect the basic human rights of their fellow citizens, and reintegrate into their society. Our regional diplomacy complements this approach by seeking to mitigate external interference in Afghanistan, and working to shift the calculus of neighboring countries from competition for influence to cooperation and economic integration.
We also believe a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan must be a key partner in the fight against violent extremism, and people in Pakistan are increasingly coming to view that we do share a common enemy. I heard this repeatedly during my recent visit. So our relationship needs to anchored in common goals of civilian rule, robust economic development, and the defeat of those who threaten Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the rest of the world.
We’ll significantly expand support intended for Pakistan to develop the potential of their people. We will do so by demonstrating a commitment to Pakistan that has been questioned by the Pakistanis in the past. And we will make sure that the people of Pakistan know that we wish to be their partner for the long term, and that we intend to do all that we can to bolster their futures. Now, we’re not going to be facing these challenges alone. We share this responsibility with governments around the world.
I will go to Brussels tomorrow to begin the process of securing additional alliance commitments of troops, trainers and resources. We expect Secretary General Rasmussen to have an announcement today about the progress we’re making in that effort. Ambassador Holbrooke, our Special Representative, is already there consulting with our allies. And we’re also asking the international community to expand its support to Pakistan. Our objectives are shared by people and governments across the world, and we are particularly reaching out to Muslims everywhere.
Let me conclude where I began. We face a range of difficult choices in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 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 the troops and civilians who will face these dangers to come together as Americans, and come together with allies and international partners who are ready to step up and do more.
We have to accomplish this mission, and I look forward to working with you to help meet this challenge. Thank you all very much.