Opening Statement by Ranking Member Reed at SASC Hearing on Political & Security Situation in Afghanistan
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to join you in welcoming Secretary Mattis and General Dunford. Thank you both for being with us today to discuss this important topic.
On August 21st President Trump announced that the United States would stay the course in Afghanistan, thereby continuing the military’s two missions of counterterrorism and capacity building to ensure that extremist groups never again use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.
In February, General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, testified before this committee that the conflict in Afghanistan had reached a stalemate and stated the need for enhanced authorities and several thousand more troops to carry out the train, advise, and assist mission at lower levels within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and across the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior. While I support the increase in troops and additional authorities, some have suggested that we have already been down this path--that a surge of over 100,000 troops could not create the conditions on the ground to successfully bring this conflict to an end. Gentlemen, we will ask you what will be different about this effort that will bring about a change that did not happen in previous efforts with even greater troop numbers and associated authorities?
To many, the situation in Afghanistan is not trending in a positive direction. The Afghan Security Forces continue to suffer high casualty rates in the face of an intensified insurgency, with Taliban and ISIS-Khorasan continuing to plan and carry out high profile attacks while maintaining the ability to regenerate their losses. The UN has reported near record numbers of civilians killed and injured in the first six months of this year. Furthermore, it appears that record setting amounts of opium will be produced in Afghanistan this year, providing a steady flow of funds to fuel the conflict.
On the other hand, in spite of this intensified fighting, the Afghan Security Forces have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to withstand Taliban offensives and recapture lost ground. They are seeking to grow their most effective units, the Afghan Special Security Forces, and further increase their offensive capabilities. The growth of the Afghan Air Force has been a force multiplier for the Security Forces, enabling greater offensive actions. In the past year, they have provided support to ground forces with limited coalition assistance, conducted target surveillance and selection, and after action battle damage assessments. I am interested in your views as to whether these developments, with additional U.S. support, will finally tip the balance on the ground.
Ultimately, though, this conflict will not be won on the battlefield. According to the President’s speech, the military efforts in Afghanistan will serve to set the conditions for the ultimate goal of the South Asia Strategy: “a peace settlement between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban that protects U.S. interests.” The President also stated that the strategy will “integrate all instruments of American power—diplomatic, economic, and military.” However, we have heard very little about the diplomatic and economic aspects of the plan. General Mattis, this integration of all of our nation’s tools is essential, and I hope you will give the committee a better sense of how our continued military involvement in Afghanistan will help translate battlefield progress into political outcomes.
If the mission in Afghanistan is to be successful, it is imperative to disrupt the external sanctuaries in Pakistan, which continue to provide the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other associated groups with the ability to train, recruit, rest, refit, and stage attacks without significant fear of interference. We have heard that the Administration intends to “change the relationship” with Pakistan in order to compel action that supports our efforts in Afghanistan. I agree that a change in this area is needed, and look forward to hearing the current thinking with regard to the tools available to press Pakistan to make more progress on these issues.
In addition to Pakistan, there are a number of regional actors who are endeavoring to play a role in Afghanistan’s future. It will be important to understand the strategy with regard to countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and India-- each of whom is seeking to ensure that their own national interests are preserved in Afghanistan, many of which may be divergent from U.S. interests.
Secretary Mattis, General Dunford, the committee is eager to hear greater detail regarding the military aspects of the South Asia Strategy as well as the manner in which these efforts will support the achievement of the desired political end-state. Thank you again for appearing and I look forward to your testimony.