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Lugar Says Obama Lacks Vision of Success in Afghanistan Strategic Value of Long-Term Engagement and Cost No Longer Justified

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today said, “President Obama must be forthcoming on a definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve.” 

Lugar said that “with al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints.”

“Clearly it would not be in our national security interest to have the Taliban take over the government or have Afghanistan reestablished as a terrorist safe haven,” Lugar said. “But the President has not offered a vision of what success in Afghanistan would entail or how progress toward success would be measured.  The outcome in Afghanistan when U.S. forces leave will be imperfect, but the President has not defined which imperfections would be tolerable.  There has been much discussion of our counter-insurgency strategy and methods, but very little explanation of what metrics must be achieved before the country is considered secure.” 

Lugar spoke at the first of what is expected to be a series of committee hearings on the greater Middle East.  “These hearings are especially timely, given the killing of Osama Bin Laden,” Lugar said.  “Americans are rightly gratified by the skill and courage demonstrated by our intelligence professionals and troops.  This is an important achievement that yields both symbolic and practical value as we continue to fight terrorism globally.”

Lugar offered four observations about the ongoing U.S. effort in Afghanistan: 

“First, we are spending enormous resources in a single country.  The President’s budget request for fiscal year 2012 included more than $100 billion for Afghanistan.  We have approximately 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan and another 31,000 in the region that are supporting Afghanistan operations.   We spent $9.2 billion in 2010, and we are spending more than $10 billion this year just to train Afghan security forces.   President Obama has requested nearly $13 billion for training in 2012.  Simultaneously, we are spending roughly $5 billion per year on civilian assistance mechanisms in Afghanistan at a time when most foreign assistance projects worldwide are being cut.

“Second, although threats to U.S. national security do emanate from within Afghanistan’s borders, these may not be the most serious threats in the region and Afghanistan may not be the most likely source of a major terrorist attack.   Last February, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center Michael Leiter said in Congressional testimony that Yemen is the most likely source of a terrorist attack against American interests in the short term.   American resources devoted to Yemen are tiny fraction of those being spent in Afghanistan.  Further, we know that al Qaeda has a far more significant presence in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.

“Third, the broad scope of our activities in Afghanistan appears to be devoted to remaking the economic, political, and security culture of that country.  But we should know by now that such grand nation building ambitions in Afghanistan are beyond our powers.   This is not to say that we cannot make Afghanistan more secure than it is now.  But the ideal of a self-sufficient, democratic nation that has no terrorists within its borders and whose government is secure from tribal competition and extremist threats is highly unlikely.  The most recent ‘Section 1230 Report on Progress toward Stability and Security in Afghanistan’ indicates that improvements in Afghan governance and development have been inconclusive.   All of the investments to date and the shift to a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy led by General Petraeus have yielded some gains in select areas.  The prominent caveat within the Defense Department report, however, and sprinkled across nearly all recent official statements by the Obama Administration is that these gains are ‘fragile and reversible.’

“Fourth, although alliance help in Afghanistan is significant and appreciated, the heaviest burden will continue to fall on the United States.  We have contributed $26.2 billion to the Afghanistan National Security Forces from 2002 to 2011, while the rest of the world, donating through the Afghanistan National Security Forces fund, has provided $2.6 billion.  Similarly the United States has provided $22.8 billion in non-military assistance since 2002, while donor partners have provided $4.2 billion.  We are carrying the lion’s share of the economic and military burden in Afghanistan and this is unlikely to change.  Alliance military activities in connection with the civil war in Libya further reduce the prospects for significantly greater allied contributions in Afghanistan.”

Lugar concluded, “If one accepts these four observations, it is exceedingly difficult to conclude that our vast expenditures in Afghanistan represent a rational allocation of our military and financial assets.  Our geostrategic interests are threatened in numerous locations, not just by terrorism, but by debt, economic competition, energy and food prices, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and numerous other forces.  Some may argue that almost any expenditure or military sacrifice in Afghanistan is justified by the symbolism of that country’s connection to the September 11 attacks.” 

“We must avoid defining success there according to relative progress,” Lugar said.  “Such definitions facilitate mission creep.  Arguably, we could make progress for decades on security, employment, good governance, women’s rights and other goals – expending tens billions of dollars each year -- without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion. A definition of success must be accompanied by a plan for focusing resources on specific goals.  We need to eliminate activities that are not intrinsic to our core objectives.  We also need to know what missions are absolutely indispensible to success, however it is defined.”