As fighting intensifies in Afghanistan with a surge in U.S. troops, some on both sides of the political spectrum have called for U.S. disengagement from the war. Liberal Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) recently called for a timetable to remove troops from Afghanistan. Speaker Pelosi has said that she does not believe there is support in the Congress for sending in more U.S. troops.
However, Members may be concerned that the U.S. already tried an "offshore" strategy in Afghanistan-during the 1990s as the region became an al Qaeda stronghold in the run-up to the September 11th terrorist attacks. There is no alternative to intensive counterinsurgency operations which have proven to be successful in Iraq and elsewhere, requiring a substantial U.S. troop commitment to protect the population and to enable Afghanistan's democratic government to secure its territory. Such a commitment will be difficult, but it is necessary for victory and keeping terrorists and rogue regimes at bay.
To this end, the House Republican Conference has compiled information including quotes from senior Democrats on the importance of success in Afghanistan, commonly asked questions and answers about the war, as well as recent facts about the campaign.
DEMOCRAT QUOTES ON AFGHANISTAN
President Barack Obama: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting; this is fundamental to the defense of our people." (8/17/2009)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "Today, the House begins to close this sad chapter in our history, to end the war in Iraq, and to refocus on the real fight against terrorism in Afghanistan. President Obama's new strategy will require additional sacrifices from our troops, but it recognizes that a successful effort in Afghanistan also demands that we improve training for the Afghan military and police, encourage governance reforms, and fund essential economic development efforts." (5/14/2009)
Majority Leader Hoyer (D-MD): "President Obama's announcement that he will send troop reinforcements to Afghanistan is the first step toward refocusing on the security and stabilization of that nation. Democrats have long said that the center of the war on terror is Afghanistan, and this renewed commitment to our fight there demonstrates the President's appreciation for this challenge...I look forward to working with the Administration, as they continue to review and develop a comprehensive strategy for the region." (2/17/2009)
Armed Services Committee Chairman Skelton (D-MO): "The war in Afghanistan is a critical mission that is finally gaining the attention it demands. The President's new Afghanistan strategy, which calls for an increase in military and civilian resources and also recognizes the vital importance of Pakistan efforts in the region, is a welcome development. To ensure our strategy in both countries is effective and achieves the intended goals within well-defined timelines, the bill requires the President to assess U.S. efforts and report on progress." (6/17/2009)
Force Levels in Afghanistan: Earlier this year President Obama approved a long-standing military request to send approximately 21,000 more troops to the country. The U.S. troop level will soon reach its highest level ever at about 68,000. It is has been reported that General Stanley McChrystal is privately requesting up to an additional 40,000 troops for Afghanistan. McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, submitted a key strategic assessment on August 31, 2009, to President Obama. Press reports indicate that senior Administration officials are deeply divided over the size and mission of the American effort in the country. Additionally, there are only 173,000 Afghan soldiers and police in the country, out of a population of 33 million people.
Afghan Elections: In August, Afghans went to the polls to vote in a much-anticipated presidential election. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai faced off against several challengers, including his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. Partial results were released by the Independent Election Commission showing Karzai leading Abdullah by a margin of 54-28 percent. These numbers reflect ballots tallied from 93 percent of polling stations. The commission set aside results from 600 polling stations where it suspects irregularities. This is the first time Karzai has had enough votes to win the election without a run-off. However, the Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission found evidence of fraud in the election. The commission has ordered a recount in some areas.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question: Can the war in Afghanistan be won?
Answer: Yes, we just learned the lessons of counterinsurgency in Iraq. Our military doesn't have to "reinvent the wheel" in Afghanistan, although our strategy will certainly have to be adapted to the specifics of that country. Some in Congress, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee specifically, have argued for the U.S. to adopt a similar strategy to the unsuccessful one implemented in Iraq during 2005 and 2006. Counterinsurgency requires appropriate levels of forces, as determined by commanders on the ground, in order to protect the local population. This may well include more U.S. troops, Special Forces, air resources, and a larger, more reliable and higher-quality Afghan security force.
Question: Is the U.S. presence in Afghanistan the same as that of the Soviet Union?
Answer: No. The U.S. and Soviet Union had starkly different goals and objectives in Afghanistan. The U.S., after being attacked on 9/11, toppled the Taliban government in an act of self-defense, and we have never had the goal of subjugating the Afghan people. The Soviet Union, however, was propping up a communist regime on the verge of collapse. The Soviet Union also wanted to use Afghanistan as a satellite state, like those it maintained in Eastern Europe, to project its power south. Finally, the Soviets used brutal tactics against the Afghan people-carpet bombing cities such as Kandahar and planting millions of landmines across the country.
Question: Do the Afghan people hate the U.S. and its presence in the country?
Answer: No, a majority of Afghans have a favorable opinion of the United States. According to an International Republican Institute poll in July, 62 percent have a positive impression of the U.S. Moreover, 82 percent view the Afghan National Army favorably. This is in comparison to only 19 percent which have a positive impression of the Taliban.
Question: What is wrong with an "offshore" strategy?
Answer: The U.S. already tried such an "offshore" strategy in Afghanistan-during the 1990s as the region became an al Qaeda stronghold in the run-up to the September 11th terrorist attacks. General Petraeus has noted that "offshore" tactics such as drone and missile attacks alone are largely ineffective in areas, such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban has established sanctuaries. The U.S. has learned that there is no alternative to intensive counterinsurgency operations, which have proven to be successful in Iraq and elsewhere. This effort will require a substantial U.S. troop commitment to protect the population and to enable Afghanistan's democratic government to secure its territory.
Question: Would a loss in Afghanistan inspire the enemies of the U.S.?
Answer: Yes. The effects of an American military loss or premature withdrawal would be grave. Although the U.S. is present in Afghanistan for quite different reasons than the Soviet Union was and the Afghan people are supportive of our efforts, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan did lay the groundwork for the September 11th attacks by inspiring jihadists with the idea that they could humble a superpower. As the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens wrote recently, "Put simply, it was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that laid much of the imaginative groundwork for 9/11. So imagine the sorts of notions that would take root in the minds of jihadists-and the possibilities that would open up to them-if the U.S. was to withdraw from Afghanistan in its own turn." A U.S. defeat would be another huge political and ideological victory which could be used to recruit a new wave of jihadists. A loss could also lead to a full-blown return of the Taliban, destruction of a fledgling democracy, and an unstable neighbor to Pakistan and other countries in the region. In other words, Afghanistan continues to be key to the war on terrorism and cannot be abandoned.
Question: What would be the impact of succeeding in Afghanistan?
Answer: The U.S. experience in Iraq proved that the right course is to wage a fully-resourced counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and thus demonstrate our commitment to Afghanistan, and provide strong global leadership against terrorism. As Ambassador Ryan Crocker noted on the impact of the President Bush's Iraq troop surge decision, "In the teeth of ferociously negative popular opinion, in the face of a lot of well-reasoned advice to the contrary, he said he was going forward, not backward," clearly demonstrating to the global community and potential adversaries that the United States is willing to fulfill its overseas commitments. The Iraq troop surge clearly challenged the opinion held by U.S. adversaries that American civilian leadership would not have the stomach to finish tough fights, and a similar decision by a President of a different political party would be a clarion call that the U.S. will defend its interest abroad and honor its commitments, regardless of changes in elected leadership.
Question: What message would a U.S. retreat send to our allies in the region and tribal leaders?
Answer: A U.S. retreat from Afghanistan would have a negative and destabilizing effect on allies in the region such as Pakistan and India, as well as tribal leaders in Afghanistan. A withdrawal would tempt local tribal leaders to ally themselves with the Taliban as they see the tide turning against the government of Afghanistan, further jeopardizing the nascent democracy. A stable Pakistan and India are also in the national security interest of the U.S. Pakistan is a country of 180 million Muslims, armed with nuclear weapons and besieged by several terrorist groups internally. Recently, Pakistan has made significant strides against insurgent groups in its border regions, specifically in the Swat River Valley. Removing U.S. forces from the Afghan side of the border would endanger these gains.