Chairman Kerry Opening Statement At Nomination Hearing For Ambassador To Afghanistan

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Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) held a nomination hearing for Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to be Ambassador to Afghanistan.

The full text of his statement as prepared is below:

This morning we are here to consider President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan, and we are fortunate that the President has chosen one of America’s most experienced and able diplomats to serve in Kabul.

It gives me great pleasure to once again welcome Ryan Crocker to the Foreign Relations Committee. In his distinguished career, he has served as ambassador to five countries, including such challenging posts as Pakistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Immediately after the Taliban’s ouster he became chargé d’affaires in Afghanistan, reopening our embassy for the first time since 1989. This is a man with a wealth of experience in the region.

Ambassador Crocker thought he had retired to a quiet life in academia, but the President had another idea. I want to say personally that I’m grateful to him and his wife Christine for agreeing to return to public service.

Obviously, you will arrive at a pivotal moment in the conflict. We have a critical planning window before us to make the necessary adjustments to our strategy to ensure a successful transition in 2014. We also should take this opportunity to recalibrate our policy, given the death of Osama bin Laden, our principle reason for being in Afghanistan in the first place.   

Last month, we held five hearings on Afghanistan and Pakistan to examine all the assumptions guiding our strategy in the region and help chart a path forward. In about two weeks, Secretary of State Clinton will testify on the Administration’s thinking and address Congressional concerns as the President decides how many troops to draw down starting in July. Needless to say, it would be very helpful if the Senate moved very quickly on this nomination.

As we move forward, we should be guided by certain truths.

First, while the United States has genuine national security interests in Afghanistan, our current commitment, in troops and dollars, is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable, in my judgment.

Second, our military has made gains clearing and holding in the south, but the President has said they are “fragile” and “reversible” absent continued robust U.S. presence there. We have not yet made sufficient gains in the east, where the threat from insurgent groups based in Pakistan continues. The principle equation with respect to our ability to resolve the situation in Afghanistan is our ability to engender stability and security in Pakistan and I will continue to emphasis a regional framework.   

Third, we need a political settlement to end the war. Reconciliation will not be a silver bullet, but we need to support the government of Afghanistan as it tries to engage those who are willing to cut an acceptable deal.

And finally, we must re-examine our current plans to stand up the Afghan National Security Forces. Their ability to defend their country remains our ticket out of Afghanistan, but there are serious questions about their size, capability, and sustainability.

Given this situation, we need to define the Afghanistan we want to leave behind to achieve our objectives and bring clarity to the mission.

We must also re-examine our approach to assistance. This morning, I released a report prepared by the Committee’s majority staff that takes a close look at how we are spending civilian aid dollars in Afghanistan. The report is meant to be a constructive, cooperative look at our approach and I appreciate the comments of USAID Administrator Raj Shah and the administration. The report argues that U.S. assistance should meet three basic conditions before money is spent: our projects should be necessary, achievable, and sustainable.

Over the next few months the President will have a lot of important decisions to make. Ambassador Crocker will have a critical role to play in making sure we get it right. Ambassador Crocker, it is a pleasure to have you back.

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