Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 16, 2007

“Afghanistan is ours to lose”: House Foreign Affairs Committee hears grim testimony from panel of experts in first of planned series of hearings

At a hearing Wednesday aptly titled “Afghanistan on the Brink,” Congressman Mark Kirk and a panel of outside experts testified before members of Congress that the situation in Afghanistan is dire and worsening. Without more funding and a concerted effort to reverse the inroads made by a resurging Taliban, the prognosis for the country’s future is bleak, panelists asserted.

Rep. Kirk focused his remarks on the rise of the “narco-Taliban,” and urged the U.S. intelligence community to highlight the fundamental link between drug trafficking and terrorism. He pinpointed loss of control in North and South Waziristan, along with a “de facto Taliban state” in Helmand as the biggest problems facing U.S. and NATO forces. These encroachments will lead to a bloody spring, he warned. The U.S. should become the lead NATO partner in poppy eradication efforts, which he characterized as failing. Rep. Kirk added that Members of Congress should caution against paying “100 percent attention” to Iraq.

Lt. General David Barno, Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, spoke of what he called Afghanistan’s positives, saying the country is on the cusp of emerging from 25 years of warfare. The Afghan people are deeply tired of fighting, and fear the U.S. will abandon them again. “Afghanistan is ours to lose,” Lt. General Barno said. He cited as major challenges Afghanistan’s lack of natural resources, creating infrastructure where none had existed, and said Afghanistan is “hundreds of years behind its neighbors.” It is in the U.S. national interest to “look to the neighborhood” he said, and added the conflict is not just about Afghanistan – it is also about securing a democratic Muslim state in the region.

New America Foundation Senior Fellow Peter Bergen said that a surge in Afghanistan can actually work. He echoed Rep. Kirk in calling for a plan to deal with tribal areas where Taliban presence is strong. The Pakistani government must become serious about dealing with members of the Taliban leadership who have found a safe haven there, said Bergen, but added that the U.S. should collaborate with Pakistan instead of pressuring Musharraf to get the desired results. Bergen warned that without poppy, 50 percent of Afghanistan’s economy would “go away.” The U.S. must explore serious alternatives – specifically crop substitution with subsidies for farmers – before pursuing eradication. Afghanistan needs “a mini-Marshall Plan,” he said.

Center for Strategic International Studies Chair in Strategy Anthony Cordesman told the Committee that “strategically we are losing” in Afghanistan. He added, it’s not how we plan to spend the money that matters but the facts on the ground; not where we throw money but how it sticks. Much higher aid levels are needed as part of an integrated effort, said Cordesman, noting that pledged aid is simply “not showing up.” The U.S. should seek better measures of effectiveness. For instance, less than half of all policemen who were trained and equipped through international aid funding are still on the job. “We can’t afford to live in a world of illusions,” Cordesman said. “We have to be real if we’re going to win.”


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