Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, today questioned Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen on President Obama’s strategy to succeed in Afghanistan. McKeon called specific attention to the President’s arbitrary deadline of July 2011 to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the increased U.S. troop commitment, and the plan to build and help professionalize the Afghanistan National Security Forces.
McKeon released the following prepared opening statement for the hearing:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to our witnesses. I’m sure you’re feeling nostalgic that this hearing is the final stop of your Congressional tour; we’ll try to make it memorable.
“Mr. Chairman, after months of waiting for a decision on Afghanistan I’m hopeful we’ve finally turned the corner and have a strategy in place to succeed in Afghanistan. On Tuesday night, the President agreed to provide General McChrystal most of the forces he needs to execute a counterinsurgency strategy. This is a positive step-particularly the President’s commitment to deploy these forces ‘as fast as possible.’ This will assist General McChrystal to take the fight directly to the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, while helping train and mentor the Afghan National Security Forces at the same time.
“Yet, the President’s speech left me unconvinced that his plan goes far enough to ensure victory. I worry that our enemies will see the President’s announced date for withdrawal as more of a commitment to leave Afghanistan than a declaration that al-Qaeda will be defeated and the Taliban routed. Certainly this is what our allies in the region believe: today’s headline in the New York Times reads ‘Afghans and Pakistanis Concerned Over U.S. Plan.’
“All Americans want to see our troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, but only after successfully completing their mission. In our view, any redeployment should be based on the events and conditions on the ground-not the Washington political clock.
“Setting a date certain to begin withdrawing U.S. forces, I believe, risks undermining the very mission the President endorsed on Tuesday night. This deadline seems to fly in the face of basic counterinsurgency doctrine. I think Senator McCain said it best yesterday: ‘Success is the real exit strategy.’ Admiral Mullen, when you testified before the Congress in September, you said: ‘The Afghan people are waiting on the sidelines for how committed we are.’ I fear that the President may have deepened the doubts of the Afghan people.
“My other concerns reside more in what the President did not say on Tuesday night. So, I’d like our witnesses to address the following questions over the course of this hearing:
“First, are 30,000 additional forces enough to win decisively? As General McChrystal stated in his assessment: ‘resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.’ Given the many leaks that General McChrystal requested at a minimum 40,000 additional forces, I’d like our witnesses to explain why the President is not under-resourcing his own strategy.
“The President should be commended for expediting the deployment of these forces. Is it your position that it is better to get 30,000 troops to Afghanistan as soon as possible than to get 44,000 spread out over the next fifteen months? When do you expect these forces to arrive in theater?
“While we have heard top line numbers, we have not heard discussion of the composition of these forces. How many combat brigades will deploy? How many will be trainers? Will each combat brigade receive all its enablers?
“As we learned in Iraq, effective counterinsurgency requires effective host nation partners. With all the talk of an exit date, the only credible narrative for redeployment is the effective build up of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). According to General McChrystal, a fundamental pillar for achieving success is developing ‘a significantly more effective and larger ANSF with radically expanded coalition force partnering at every echelon.’
“Both the President’s speech and your testimony today do not address the requisite size of the ANSF. Do you believe we need to double the size of the Afghan National Security Forces in order transition security responsibility to the Afghan government? General Caldwell and others have the number at 400,000. Do we need to have this force in place before we begin transition?
“Finally, I think one of the costs of the three month deliberation was the absence of a strong voice promoting our mission and our strategy. While the Executive huddled public opinion and support lagged. This needs to be corrected. I hope the President will travel to communities throughout the United States to rally the American people and the Congress behind his strategy.
“I look forward to a candid discussion on these important issues. Thank you again for being here this afternoon.”