May 24, 2011

Lugar Continues to Question Obama Strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing, the fifth in a series on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I join you in welcoming our distinguished witnesses.  Like the Chairman, I remain hopeful that we will soon hear from the Defense Department and the State Department in public session about their plans in the region going forward. 

At this hearing, we are attempting to define the nature of the terrorist threats that confront us in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This is important because we are devoting enormous resources to these two countries, with the primary goal of fighting terrorism.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan affect clear U.S. national security interests.  In previous hearings, however, I have contended that the resources being spent in Afghanistan are far greater than the current threat warrants.  The United States has almost 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, with another 32,000 deployed in the region to support the mission.  According to the Congressional Research Service, there were an estimated 87,000 military contract personnel in Afghanistan at the beginning of this year.  More than 1,100 civilian personnel are assigned to the U.S. Embassy.  The U.S. effort in Afghanistan is costing approximately $120 billion a year. 

The question before us is whether Afghanistan is strategically important enough to justify the lives and massive resources that we are spending there, especially given that few terrorists in Afghanistan have global designs or reach.  To the extent that our purpose is to confront the global terrorist threat, we should be refocusing resources on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, parts of North Africa, and other locations.  Our government should be working on an approach that allows us to 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.

The Pakistan side of the border has a fundamentally different dynamic.  Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups maintain a strong presence.  There is no question that the threat of these groups, combined with worries about state collapse, a Pakistani war with India, the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan’s intersection with other states in the region make it a strategically vital country worth the cost of engagement.  The question is how the United States navigates the contradictions inherent in dealing with the Pakistani government and Pakistani society to ensure that our resources and diplomacy advance our objectives efficiently.

The importance of getting this right is reinforced by the utterances of Osama bin Laden, who called the terrorist acquisition of nuclear and chemical weapons “a religious duty.”  This effort has not died with bin Laden.  Al Qaeda and its affiliates have so far been unsuccessful in obtaining nuclear material or a nuclear device, experts believe.  But many of our top military and intelligence officials continue to regard the terrorist acquisition of a nuclear weapon as the biggest threat to U.S. national security.

Pakistan’s military leaders have given repeated assurances that the country’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal is well-secured.  But we also know that the A.Q. Khan network was enabled by members of Pakistan’s nuclear establishment.  Further, if Pakistan succumbs to violent extremism or economic collapse, confidence in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and technology could erode rapidly.  This underscores the importance to U.S. national security of a stable Pakistan and of continued engagement on terrorism and nuclear security issues.


Press Contact

Mark Helmke • 202-224-5918