Kerry Opening Statement At Hearing Titled “Al Qaeda, The Taliban, And Other Extremist Groups In Afghanistan and Pakistan”

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Washington, D.C. – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired a hearing to examine the current threat posed by Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to analyze the capabilities and intent of other international terrorist groups operating in the region.

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s statement as prepared is below:

We are once again joined by an exceptional panel of experts for the fifth in a series of hearings on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Today we’ll examine what is perhaps the most important aspect of the war – the enemy.

In order to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist sanctuary, we must understand exactly who we’re fighting – what motivates them, what binds them together, and most importantly, what could drive them apart. Today we’ll attempt to gain a deeper understanding of insurgent and extremist groups that inhabit the region and better understand the nature of this conflict.

Bin Laden may have been at the center of it all, but his death does not signal the end of terrorism. Al Qaeda still exists, motivated by the same vitriol and warped ideology that has always been the organization’s trademark. The Abbottabad raid, however, sent an unmistakable message: the United States is committed, capable, and unrelenting in its pursuit of those who seek to do us harm.

The extent of Bin Laden’s operational significance will become clear when we finish analyzing the material that was removed from his compound.  But one aspect of his legacy is apparent: even after 9/11, he played a central role in motivating disparate groups to unite against the United States and other Western nations.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where strong connections among extremist groups exist at both the organizational and individual levels. Terrorists and insurgents work together against coalition forces and to indiscriminately murder innocent civilians, aid workers, civil servants, and children. Their motivation -- which should offend all faiths -- is to destabilize the region and to establish a safe haven where they can plot attacks against the United States and our allies. People ask why we are still in Afghanistan – this is the reason.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are names well known to Americans. But other groups are actively plotting, and actively killing, every day. The Haqqani network has expanded its reach beyond North Waziristan in Pakistan and provides sanctuary to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. The Tehrik-e-Taliban, otherwise known as the Pakistani Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi systematically work to undermine the government of Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Muhammed continue to launch attacks that risk sparking war between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

I want to take a minute to highlight the threat posed by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. This group – responsible for the vicious Mumbai attacks of 2008 – could not only destabilize the region with another attack against India, but through its extensive alumni organization and network of training camps throughout Pakistan, it could threaten the U.S. homeland.  

We also face threats from individuals seeking to fulfill their own personal objectives. Najibullah Zazi, a legal U.S. resident born in Afghanistan, conspired to bomb the New York City subway system in 2009 after he received training in Pakistan. Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb last year in Times Square, was linked to the Pakistani Taliban.

Unfortunately these are just two examples of a new generation of would-be terrorists who have grown up in the shadow of extremist militancy. These “lone wolves” are as potentially dangerous as any one organization.

Even though these groups and individuals have overlapping interests, fissures do exist among them. They are separated by ideologies, nationalities, and tribal or sectarian backgrounds. Our focus now should be less on who will succeed Bin Laden and more on how to exploit those fissures and dismantle the networks that he spawned.

This is a critical moment in the war in Afghanistan. Our security gains in the South – and they are real -- coupled with Bin Laden’s death, have, in my judgment and that of the people I talked to in Afghanistan a week ago, created political space. Let’s seize the opportunity.

Middle and low-level Taliban fighters want to come in from the battlefield. We must work with the Afghan government to make sure those who wish to lay down their arms can do so. And as reconcilable elements of the insurgency enter the peace process, and I think it is possible for some to do that, we must ensure that Afghans are able to avoid both Taliban rule and a return of civil war. 

Of course, we cannot forget the impact that Pakistan has on the future of Afghanistan. Terrorists and insurgents continue to exploit the 1,200-mile porous border that separates the two countries. We need to work with Pakistan to deal with the problem of the sanctuaries for purveyors of violence in both nations.

The good news here is that there is common ground between the vital national interests of Pakistan and the United States. As I have often said, Pakistan is the key for diminishing the insurgency in Afghanistan itself. It will take adroit and persistent diplomacy to convince the Pakistani military leaders that the real threat to their sovereignty comes not from its eastern border and not from across the Atlantic, but from the violent extremists within their own country.

We obviously have a lot to discuss. To help us, we have: 

Peter Bergen, currently the Director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation and an expert on Al Qaeda and Bin Laden.

Dr. Paul Pillar, a 28 year veteran of the CIA and the Director of Graduate Studies and Faculty Member at Georgetown University.

And Dr. Christine Fair, also a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies and an expert on extremist groups in South Asia.

Thank you for coming and we look forward to your testimony.

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