Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Statement of Chairman Tom Lantos at Hearing "Afghanistan on the Brink: Where Do We Go From Here?"

February 15, 2007

Three weeks ago, I arrived in Kabul with Speaker Pelosi and my colleagues in the national security leadership of the House. We were moved by the dedication, courage and professionalism of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan. And we were struck by how this desolate and hard-hit land of multiple ethnicities, cultures and tribes has come together in the last few years. But I must say it was painfully clear that with the current security situation, and with indications of a new assault by the Taliban planned for this spring, things could well fall apart. Afghanistan is once again on the brink.

The situation is a far cry from the outpouring of global solidarity in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, and the universal expressions of support for an assault on the Taliban back then. Who would have thought that just a few years later it would come to this: Insufficient troops to get the job done.
A shortage of financial support. A handful of countries shouldering the burden and taking on the risks for all members of NATO.

The United States and our allies face a pivotal decision. We cannot continue to under-commit our resources to this crucial effort in the first front in the global struggle against terrorism. We must use a different, more creative approach - one that takes a hard line against those who finance the Taliban and al Qaeda, and who poison the world by supplying more than 90 percent of its heroin - and in this connection, I want to commend my friend from Florida, the Ranking Member, for an excellent article that appeared just this morning. We need an approach that involves the Afghan people in deciding their fate; one that truly encompasses the broader international community, which has a vested interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan.

For several years, I have been calling on the U.S. and NATO's military leadership in Afghanistan to change their policy of ignoring narco-trafficking. Right now, they will only destroy opium stockpiles and drug laboratories if they happen to come across them during other combat operations. We have been told that the military "doesn't do counter-narcotics," even as they admit that narcotics profits feed our battlefield enemies. After several years of record opium harvest and rampant drug corruption with no end in sight, we no longer have the luxury of indulging in this artificial and meaningless distinction.

We need to reverse this trend now. I call on our own government and on NATO to immediately create and deploy counter-narcotic interdiction combat units to go after drug kingpins, warlords and Afghan officials that process and traffic opium.

Yes, we must pursue eradication and rural development programs to create alternatives to poppy cultivation. But relying solely on long-term, incremental, multi-year campaigns of eradication and development will not do the job alone. The place is awash in opium, and we need to drain the swamp.

We must target those who profit most handsomely from opium trafficking. Up to now, they have been able to operate with impunity. They even gleefully invite foreign journalists and film crews to document their operations.

These criminals must be put on notice.
Narcotics trafficking is part of the battlefield in Afghanistan, and we must treat it as such.

But military pressure cannot be the only instrument in the war against opium in Afghanistan. If we are to expect success, the Karzai government must commit to bring these vicious criminals to justice.

Incredibly, some are members of parliament. I urge this Administration to work with President Karzai to make public a list of major drug traffickers.
Honor is an important factor in Afghan society, and what could be more dishonorable than having your name publicly listed as a trafficker of drugs
- a Most-Wanted Hall of Shame.

Ultimately, the war against opium must be led by the Afghan people. I call upon President Karzai and this Administration to organize a Loya Jirga, or a traditional Afghan Assembly, with tribal elders and local leaders to gain support in the counter-narcotics effort. I am convinced that village leaders across the country recognize the moral and even religious calamity that the drug trade has befallen on their society. We must help empower them to institute a change in culture and attitude toward the poison that has plagued their land for so long.

Our efforts to promote a free and secure Afghanistan will not be successful unless our European allies and the Gulf nations step up. It is simply unacceptable that NATO commanders are left to beg for troops from countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. It is an outrage that only troops from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom are deployed to the most hazardous spots. No longer should American taxpayers have to pay the lion's share of the bill while the Saudis receive more than 300 billion dollars of windfall oil profits. No longer should this Administration stand passively by while our so-called allies take advantage of American generosity and courage.

I am baffled by the short-sightedness of our European friends and oil-rich neighbors. A failed Afghanistan would be a detriment to all of us. In 2004, the world witnessed train bombs in Madrid and suicide bombers in Riyadh. A failed Afghanistan would be a launching pad for terrorists to cause even more mayhem in cities across the globe.

Stronger counter-narcotics efforts, Afghan engagement, and holding our allies accountable must be the hallmarks of our new strategy in Afghanistan.
The gloves must come off if we are to prevail against the Taliban and the drug lords. This is a crucial year for Afghanistan.

I am pleased to note that as we conduct this hearing, the President has decided to send 3,000 additional American troops that were originally going to Iraq to Afghanistan, presumably as a "surge" to counter the expected Taliban spring offensive. I think the President should be bolder and send all of the 22,000 troops of the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan, where they could actually make a difference.

I am pleased now to turn to my esteemed colleague, the Ranking for any remarks that she may choose to make.


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