All three surges – military, civilian, and diplomatic – are part of the vision for transition that NATO endorsed in Lisbon last December and that President Obama reaffirmed last night. As he said, Afghans must take responsibility for their own future.
Today, I want to amplify on the President’s statement and update you specifically on our civilian efforts. And I also look forward to answering your questions about the road ahead. Because despite the progress, we have to stay focused on the mission. As the President said, “We have to put al-Qaida on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.”
First, let me say a word about the military effort. Last night, the President explained his plan to begin drawing down our forces next month and transitioning to Afghan responsibility. I will leave it to my colleagues from the Defense Department to discuss the specifics. But the bottom line, as the President said, is that we have broken the Taliban’s momentum. So we do begin this drawdown from a position of strength.
With respect to the civilian surge, we greatly appreciate the attention that this committee has devoted to it. Because improving governance, creating economic opportunity, supporting civil society is vital to solidifying our military gains and advancing our political and diplomatic goals.
Since January 2009, we have tripled the number of diplomats, development experts, and other civilian specialists on the ground in Afghanistan, and we have expanded our presence out in the field nearly six-fold. And these new civilians have changed the way we do business, focusing on key ministries and sectors, and holding ourselves and our partners to higher standards.
And there should be no doubt about the results of our investment, despite the very difficult circumstances that you all know so well. Economic growth is up, opium production is down. Under the Taliban, only 900,000 boys and no girls were enrolled in schools. By 2010, 7.1 million students were enrolled, and nearly 40 percent of them girls.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers have been trained and equipped with new seeds and other techniques. Afghan women have used more than 100,000 microfinance loans. Infant mortality is down 22 percent.
Now, what do these numbers and others that I could quote tell us?
First, that despite the many challenges that remain, life is better for most Afghans. And the Karzai government has many failings, to be sure. But more people, in every research analysis we are privy to, say they see progress in their streets, their schools, their fields. And we remain committed to fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law in a very challenging environment.
The aim of the civilian surge was to give Afghans a stake in their country’s future and provide credible alternatives to extremism and insurgency. It was not nor was it ever designed to solve all of Afghanistan’s development challenges. Measured against the goals we set and considering the obstacles we faced, we are and should be encouraged by what we have accomplished.
And most important, the civilian surge helped advance our military and political objectives. Let me just offer one example. Last November, USAID began funding the reconstruction of irrigation systems in Wardak province, providing jobs for hundreds of workers and water to thousands of farmers. In March, just a few months ago, insurgents demanded that the people abandon the project and support the spring offensive. The people refused. Why? Because they asked themselves, “Should we trade new opportunities for a better life for more violence and chaos?” Frustrated, the insurgents threatened to attack the project. Local shuras mobilized and sent back a clear message: “We want this work to continue. Interfere and you will become our enemy.” And the insurgents backed down.
We have now reached the height of the civilian surge. Any effort of this size and scope will face considerable logistical challenges. And we have worked hard in the last two and a half years to strengthen oversight and improve effectiveness. We have, frankly, learned many lessons, and we are applying them. And the efforts of our civilians on the ground, working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, continues to be nothing short of extraordinary. Looking ahead as the transition proceeds, we are shifting our efforts from short-term stabilization projects, largely as part of the military strategy, to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia’s economy.
Now, the third surge is our diplomatic surge. It is diplomatic efforts in support of an Afghan-led political process that aims to shatter the alliance between the Taliban and al-Qaida, end the insurgency, and help to produce more stability. To begin, we are working with the Afghans on a new strategic partnership declaration that will provide a long-term framework for bilateral cooperation and NATO cooperation, as agreed to, again, at Lisbon. And it will bolster Afghan and regional confidence that Afghanistan will not again become a safe haven for terrorists and an arena for competing regional interests.
As the President said last night, this will ensure we will be able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan Government. It will also provide a backdrop for reconciliation with insurgents who must meet clear red lines – they must renounce violence, they must abandon al-Qaida, and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women. As I said in February in the speech I gave outlining this strategy, those are the necessary outcomes of any negotiation.
In the last four months, this Afghan-led political process has gained momentum. Twenty-seven Provincial Peace Councils have been established in Afghanistan, and the Afghan High Peace Council has stepped up its efforts to engage civil society and women, even as it also begins reaching out to insurgents. And let me underscore something which you will not be surprised to hear me say, but I say it not because of my personal feelings but because of my strategic assessment: Including women and civil society in this process is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart and strategic thing to do as well. Any potential for peace will be subverted if women or ethnic minorities are marginalized or silenced. And the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade.
But we believe that a political solution that meets these conditions is possible. The United States has a broad range of contacts at many levels across Afghanistan and the region, that we are leveraging to support this effort, including very preliminary outreach to members of the Taliban. This is not a pleasant business, but a necessary one, because history tells us that a combination of military pressure, economic opportunity, and an inclusive political and diplomatic process is the best way to end insurgencies. With bin Ladin dead and al-Qaida’s remaining leadership under enormous pressure, the choice facing the Taliban is clear: Be part of Afghanistan’s future or face unrelenting assault. They cannot escape this choice.
Special Representative Marc Grossman is leading an active diplomatic effort to build support for a political solution. What we call the Core Group – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States – has met twice and will convene again next week. At the same time, we are engaging the region around a common vision of an independent, stable Afghanistan and a region free of al-Qaida. We believe we’ve made progress with all of the neighbors, including India, Russia, and even Iran. Just this past Friday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to support reconciliation by splitting its sanctions on al-Qaida and the Taliban into two separate lists, underscoring that the door is open for the insurgents to abandon the terrorists and choose a different path.
We welcome these steps, and for the United States the key diplomatic priority and indeed a lynchpin of this entire effort is closing the gap between Kabul and Islamabad. Pakistan must be part of this process. Earlier this month, the two countries launched a joint peace commission and held substantive talks at the highest levels. Also, very significant, was the full implementation on June 12th of the Transit Trade Agreement, which will create new economic opportunity on both sides of the Durand Line and lay the foundation for a broader vision of regional economic integration and cooperation. This agreement started being negotiated in the early 1960s. It therefore took decades, including great, heroic effort by the late Richard Holbrooke and his team. But the trucks are now rolling across the border.
I recently visited Pakistan and had, as we say in diplo-speak, very candid discussions with its leaders. The United States has clear expectations for this relationship, and as President Obama said last night, the United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who kill Americans. We are looking to Pakistan to take concrete actions on the goals we share: Defeating violent extremism, which has also taken so many innocent Pakistani lives; ending the conflict in Afghanistan; and securing a stable, democratic, prosperous future.
Now, these are obviously tough questions to ask of the Pakistanis and there are many causes for frustration. But we should not overlook the positive steps of just recent weeks since May 2nd: Counterterrorism cooperation continues and several very key extremists have been killed or captured. As I told the Pakistanis, America cannot and should not try to solve Pakistan’s problems; they have to eventually do that themselves. But nor can we walk away from this relationship and ignore the consequences, for all the reasons that Senator Lugar outlined in his opening statement: Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state sitting at the crossroads of a strategic region. And we have seen this movie before. We have seen the cost of disengaging from the region. As Secretary Gates, who was there at that time, has stressed, we cannot repeat the mistakes of 1989.
That’s why it’s important we have the resources to continue implementing our strategy. The State Department is following the Pentagon’s model and creating a special emergency fund – an Overseas Contingency Operations account – that separates normal operating costs from extraordinary wartime expenses. Now, I will hasten to say we are painfully aware of today’s fiscal reality. And I know that it is tempting for some to peel off the civilian and diplomatic elements of our strategy. They obviously make fewer headlines; people don’t know as much about them. And it would be a terrible mistake, and I’m not saying that just for myself, but as our commanders on the ground will tell you, the three surges work hand-in-hand. You cannot cut or limit one and expect the other two to succeed.
Ultimately, I believe we are saving money and, much more importantly, lives by investing now. And let’s not forget: An entire year of civilian assistance in Afghanistan costs Americans the same amount as 10 days of military operations.
So Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members, I thank you for this opportunity to discuss our strategy. There have been a lot of developments in the last months and I feel that what we are doing is working. But it is obviously important that we ask the hard questions, and I look forward to working with you to improve the strategy and work together to implement it.
Thank you very much.