House Armed Services Committee: Opening Statement of Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO): Hearing on Security and Stability in Afghanistan and Iraq
For Immediate Release: Sept. 10, 2008
Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) delivered the following opening statement during today’s hearing on Security and Stability in Afghanistan and Iraq:
“Welcome Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. And welcome Ambassador Edelman and General Winnefeld. I’m pleased to have you all with us today to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan and Iraq. I would note gentlemen, that your appearance today fulfills your obligation to brief this committee on force levels in Iraq under Section 1223 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. As it turns out, this hearing could not be more critical or more timely.
“To talk about progress in Iraq and Afghanistan is to talk about the tremendous Americans serving in uniform in those theaters. It is only appropriate to begin the hearing by paying tribute to them, their service, and their families.
“Admiral Mullen about nine months ago, you testified to this committee that, ‘our main focus, militarily, in the region and in the world right now is rightly and firmly in Iraq. It is simply a matter of resources, of capacity. In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.’ As you both know, I strongly disagree with this approach.
“Given this, I find myself struggling with the President’s announcement yesterday that nets one additional brigade for Afghanistan and then not until February. Almost all indicators of security and stability in Afghanistan are down this year; General McKiernan continues to plead publicly and to members of Congress for additional troops—specifically three additional brigades; and the intelligence community and others—like Admiral Mullen— acknowledge that any future attack against our homeland is most likely to come from the safe havens that exist along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier.
“No one has been able to explain to me why Iraq is our first priority based national security interests. How can it be when those most likely to attack us are in Afghanistan? How is it that the commander in Iraq was given every resource needed to achieve his goals and we are not doing the same for the Afghan commander? Seven years after 9/11, when can we tell the American people we will be prepared to do what is needed to win in Afghanistan?
“I know you both are spending an enormous amount of time on Afghanistan. But seven years on, I still do not see a well-coordinated, comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan that addresses all aspects of the mission there, such as training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces, counter-narcotics, reconstruction, improving governance, and regional issues including the border with Pakistan. Such a strategy needs to marshal all our resources and lay out clearly what it will take to succeed. The Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act required such a strategy.
“Yet the Department’s answer was delivered two months late, with four-month old data, and did not include the required strategy. It also did not include enough on specific measures of progress, a timetable for achieving goals, or required budget information.
“There are a lot of specifics I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss today—including the status and capability of the Afghan National Security Force and the chronic shortfall of more than 2,500 trainers and mentors for that force.
“We also must remember that we can only stabilize Afghanistan if we are able to handle its complex relationship with Pakistan. However, in April 2008, GAO reported that the U.S. lacks a comprehensive plan to eliminate insurgent safe havens in Pakistan’s border region, and another GAO report found significant oversight and accountability problems regarding DOD Coalition Support Funds, which have been used to reimburse Pakistan nearly $6 billion dollars since 2002 for support to U.S. operations. Our policy on Pakistan, which has been largely shaped by the requirements of the war in Afghanistan, has not proven resilient in the face of changing circumstances in that country.
“This all suggests the U.S. has simply not devoted the focus or resources necessary to address the national security threats in Afghanistan and its border area. I am not discounting the gains made in Afghanistan since 2001, and there are real and important successes. And of course U.S. troops in Afghanistan continue to serve with the excellence, devotion, and patriotism we all too often take for granted. However, more must be done. As we’ve seen all too well this year, any gains can quickly vanish if we don’t capitalize on them. Our NATO allies must also do much, much more. But we cannot expect our allies to step up if the U.S. itself does not demonstrate a strong commitment to the success of the Afghanistan mission.
“In terms of Iraq, I applaud the military success there. But I remain concerned about the pace of political progress. The Iraqis have still not been able to even come to an agreement on holding provincial elections, much less address more fundamental questions like the future of Kirkuk. Given this, I have a real question of why we are not redeploying additional forces—both to bolster our efforts in Afghanistan and to keep the pressure on the Iraqis to come to a sustainable political accommodation.
“So gentlemen I ask you, when will the conditions in Iraq be good enough and when will the conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated enough to warrant the re-prioritization of focus and resources that’s required to ensure the long-term success of the Afghanistan mission? When will you be able to tell this committee, with confidence, that in Afghanistan we do what we must?
“Now I turn to my good friend and colleague from California, Duncan Hunter, for any statement he may wish to make.”