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Lugar Says Obama Needs New Plan for Afghanistan

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,. Made the following opening statement today at a hearing before the committee:

Afghanistan has undeniable symbolic importance and can still be a source of threats to U.S. security.  The question before us is whether Afghanistan is important enough to justify the lives and massive resources that are being spent there, especially given our nation’s debt crisis.   Or, can we achieve the most important national security goals in Afghanistan – especially preventing the Taliban from taking over the government and preventing Afghan territory from being used as a terrorist safe haven -- at far less expense?

At our first hearing on Afghanistan last week, I offered four observations as a prelude.  First, we are spending enormous national security resources in a single country.  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.   Third, the broad scope of our activities suggests that we are trying to remake the economic, political, and security culture of Afghanistan, but that ambitious goal is beyond our powers.  And fourth, although alliance help in Afghanistan is significant and appreciated, the heaviest burden will continue to fall on the United States.

These observations, if accepted, call into question whether our vast expenditures in Afghanistan represent a rational allocation of our military and financial assets.  This was true before Osama Bin Laden was killed.  His death has encouraged reflection on our policy in Afghanistan and may create some perceptual opportunities in the region.  But a reassessment of our Afghanistan policy on the basis of whether our overall geostrategic interests are being served by spending roughly $10 billion a month in that country was needed before our troops took out Bin Laden.

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.  Solving these problems will be much more difficult if we devote too many resources toward one country that, historically, has frustrated nation building experiments. 

The Obama Administration has targeted July for decisions on initial troop withdrawals.  The President should not just withdraw an arbitrary number of troops.  Rather, he should put forward a new plan that includes a definition of success in Afghanistan based on U.S. vital interests and a sober analysis of what is possible to achieve.

I continue to stress that such a plan should include an explanation of what metrics must be achieved before the country is considered secure.  It should also designate and eliminate those activities that are not intrinsic to our core objectives.

In Afghanistan, measuring success according to relative progress has very little meaning.  Undoubtedly, we will make some progress when we are spending more than $100 billion per year in that country.   The more important question is whether we have an efficient strategy for protecting our vital interests that does not involve massive open-ended expenditures and does not require us to have more faith than is justified in Afghan institutions.

In this context Congress needs to know much more about the prospective strategic partnership agreement that is under discussion with the Afghan government.  The cancelation of bilateral talks scheduled for last March underscored that progress on this agreement has been slow.

The President and his team also need to establish much greater confidence regarding Coalition efforts to train Afghan security forces.  A DOD Inspector General Report from March of this year concluded that the NATO Training Mission, “lacks enough specialized personnel to initiate, manage, and oversee the rapidly growing number of contractors and effectively manage the use of ASFF funds.”  The United States spent $9.2 billion in 2010 and more than $10 billion this year on this project.  President Obama has requested nearly $13 billion for training in 2012.  The high cost of this program is evidence of its centrality to Administration strategy.   But doubts also exist about whether newly trained security forces can assume responsibility for providing security in the country anytime soon.  Even if training begins to produce units capable of independent action, tribalism and the corruption inherent to the central government create complications that could undercut the success of this experiment.  In addition, after units are trained, what are U.S. obligations over the long term for sustaining them with equipment, pay, fuel and other inputs?  According to some estimates, this could cost more than $6 billion per year.