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Kerry Opening Statement At Hearing On “Steps Needed For A Successful 2014 Transition In Afghanistan”

Washington, D.C. – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) chaired the third in a series of hearings on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The hearing focused on Afghanistan and the path the Obama Administration needs to pursue in order to shift security responsibility to Afghan security forces by 2014.

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

Good morning and welcome. This is the third of six hearings on Afghanistan and Pakistan we are holding this month. Last week, we explored what the end-game in Afghanistan might look like and how we better engage with Pakistan on common interests and threats.

Today, we are focused on Afghanistan and the specific steps the Administration needs to take to shift security responsibility to Afghan security forces by 2014.  It is my hope that these hearings will help develop a roadmap for how the United States can leave Afghanistan in a way that protects our interests and restores our freedom of action globally.  We are fortunate again to have a strong panel of witnesses, and I want to thank each of you for being here. 

Osama Bin Laden’s death was more than a critical triumph in our fight against terrorism. It provides a potentially game-changing opportunity to build momentum for a political solution in Afghanistan that could bring greater stability to the region and bring our troops home. 

Let me be very clear:  A precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a mistake and I, for one, would take that option off the table. Instead, we should be working toward the smallest footprint necessary, a presence that puts Afghans in charge – and presses them to step up to that task -- at the same time that it secures our interests and accomplishes our mission of destroying Al Qaeda and preventing Afghanistan from ever again becoming a terrorist sanctuary.

But make no mistake, it is unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight – and the good news is, we don’t have to. I am convinced that we can achieve our core goals at a more sustainable cost, in both lives and dollars.

I hope our witnesses will really help us understand the nitty-gritty details of how we get there.

To begin, we have to take a hard look at the capability and sustainability of the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security. This is our ticket home. But, despite our best efforts, corruption, predatory behavior, and incompetence are still rampant within the Afghan army and police. Attrition rates, although slowly improving, remain debilitating. A series of deadly attacks by uniformed Afghans against their own troops, their own government officials and our men and women in uniform has undermined trust and hurt morale.

On top of these problems, there is the question of money. Frankly, I’m not sure an Afghan security force of 350,000 is sustainable.  The estimates are that it will cost $8 billion a year to sustain a force of that size after the transition in 2014. Even the most optimistic estimates are that the Afghan government’s tax revenue will be around $2 billion, $2.5 billion at the top. That is the total, folks. So who is going to pay the bills to avoid having these armed soldiers and police mobilized as part of the next insurgency?

The future of the security forces is only part of the discussion of what kind of Afghan state we can afford to leave behind.  How democratic, how competent, and how uncorrupt do Afghan institutions need to be to provide basic services and security?  What is “good enough”? At every turn, we have to ask what we can realistically accomplish in the next few years to build sufficient Afghan capacity and focus on those areas.

Finally, as we did in Iraq, we need to determine how we can best support a political solution led by Afghans that Afghans must be willing and able to hold together in the future.  We need to make our ultimate goals absolutely clear, for the sake of the American people, Afghans, Pakistanis, and everyone else with a stake in the outcome.  The Administration should send a clear signal that it supports reconciliation efforts, instead of the mixed messages coming from different parts of our government.  Our lack of clarity has caused Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other players to start hedging their bets and planning for the worst rather than the best. 

We have three distinguished witnesses today who are going to help us explore these issues.

Dr. David Kilcullen is an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  He was a civilian advisor to General Petraeus on the U.S. counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Dr. Seth Jones is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation.  He is a well-known expert on Afghanistan and author of the book, In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan

Stephen Biddle is a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert in defense policy and strategy.

Gentlemen, we look forward to your help in finding answers to these questions.