Wednesday, May 5, 2010

House Armed Services Committee: Opening Statement of Chairman Ike Skelton Hearing on Developments in Security and Stability in Afghanistan

House Armed Services Committee: Opening Statement of Chairman Ike Skelton Hearing on Developments in Security and Stability in Afghanistan
Ike Skelton, Chairman
May 5, 2010

Washington, D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) delivered the following opening statement during today’s hearing on developments in security and stability in Afghanistan:

“Today, the committee meets to receive testimony on developments in security and stability in Afghanistan. Our witnesses, both old friends of the committee, are: the Honorable Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Lieutenant General John Paxton, the Director for Operations on the Joint Staff. Welcome, both of you.

“Six months ago, President Obama announced the results of a comprehensive review of our policy in Afghanistan, which for many years had essentially been non-existent. During this announcement, he endorsed a new counter-insurgency strategy centered on increasing U.S. forces by 30,000 troops, adding U.S. civilian experts, and focusing on protecting the population of Afghanistan from the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

“I endorsed this strategy then, and I do so now. As I have said many times, while this new strategy cannot guarantee success in Afghanistan, it is the most likely to end with an Afghanistan that can prevent the return of the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.

“Six months into the new policy, it is appropriate for Congress to consider how things are going. About 21,000 of the 30,000 troops have arrived in country, and many have been involved in the recent successful military operation in Marjah. Others will soon begin restoring security in Kandahar, an operation that is likely to be crucial to our overall success in Afghanistan.

“We have seen other clear signs of success in our fight against terrorists. The President’s new strategy helped lead to the capture of the Taliban’s second-in-command, a former Taliban finance minister, and two ‘shadow governors’ of Afghan provinces, the most significant captures of Afghan Taliban leaders since the start of the war in Afghanistan.

“While I am pleased with the recent successes in Afghanistan, and I anticipate others, many concerns remain. Although we successfully cleared Marjah, the Taliban still appears to be able to infiltrate the town and threaten and kill those who cooperate with U.S. and Afghan security forces. This may not be unanticipated. It takes time to build the confidence of a local population. But I worry that some of this may point to the weakness of the local government, which cannot easily deliver the services and governance needed to help convince the residents of Marjah to join the right side.

“While we have increased forces in Afghanistan, our allies have also begun to send additional troops. To date, they have added about 50 percent of the 9000 new troops they pledged after President Obama’s December speech. But serious concerns remain about our ability to train the Afghan security forces who will have to assume the burden of providing security and combating terrorism in Afghanistan without more international trainers. I am pleased that Secretary Gates has decided to send additional U.S. military personnel to fill this gap, but this is a short term solution and not a long-term fix.

“This concern relates to another. In a recent meeting, NATO endorsed a process to transition the lead for security in some districts from U.S. and allied troops to Afghan National Security Forces. I think all of us would like to know more about this process and its implications—what progress do we have to see in a district before it can transition to Afghan lead, and what does this mean for the international troops in that district? Are we talking about progress among the Afghan security forces or must the district also need a competent and honest government?

“Finally, a quick word of congratulations and one of caution. The Department of Defense recently delivered a very good, and for once on-time, ‘Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.’ Thank you for that. Unfortunately, a similar, somewhat higher level metrics report filed by the National Security Council was very disappointing. It is my hope that future reports will more closely resemble the 1230 report and provide real information. Congress cannot judge progress from glorified press releases.

“Again, thank you for coming before us today. I suspect this will not be the last hearing on Afghanistan this committee holds this year, and I appreciate you working with us to ensure that Congress can conduct its Constitutional and appropriate oversight activities.

“I now turn to my good friend, Buck McKeon, for any comments he might care to make.”


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