Floor Statement on New U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Madam President, I rise to convey this afternoon some brief remarks on the new strategy of the United States for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced by President Obama last month. I applaud his statement, and I applaud the sharpening of focus this new administration has brought to our mission in this critical region of the world. For too long, our policy in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has drifted--overly reliant on support for individual leaders, excessively ambitious in our goals for the region, and, finally, lacking any constraints or accountability for the billions of tax dollars of the United States spent in both countries.

President Obama made clear during the campaign last year that we could no longer pair grandiose rhetoric with paltry resources when it comes to U.S. policy toward those two nations.

Accordingly, in one of his first national security decisions, he established a 60-day comprehensive review of our entire policy. He asked the respected Bruce Riedel to take leave from the Brookings Institution and oversee this review.

The policy review is now complete. With the full support of Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus, the President is dispatching an additional 4,000 troops to train and advise the Afghan Army as it grows in size and scope to shoulder the burden of securing Afghanistan on its own.

The President is dramatically increasing our civilian presence in Afghanistan, recognizing that we cannot win this conflict on military terms alone but must provide a robust development and diplomatic capability to complement our brave fighting men and women.

Finally, the Obama administration recognizes we cannot separate Afghanistan and Pakistan, to pretend as if they were two separate challenges. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Following the successful offensive of the United States in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, hard-line Taliban and al-Qaida elements successfully relocated to western Pakistan. From there, they have created a sanctuary to attack troops of the United States, to destabilize eastern and southern Afghanistan, and to launch attacks on Pakistani military units and civilian installations.

Moreover, these radical elements are beginning to move westward within Pakistan, threatening the stability of the Pakistani state. I am extremely concerned by the speed with which the Taliban is gaining ground, especially in the areas close to Islamabad, the capital. I know the administration is working with our partners in Pakistan to prevent the situation from deteriorating even further. We must continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to prevent these radical groups from destabilizing the Pakistani State and the region. As we all know, Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal which would pose a grave threat should it fall under the control of extremists.

The recent gains of the Taliban show how interrelated the threats in Pakistan and Afghanistan are. The threat in Afghanistan feeds off the threat in Pakistan and vice versa. We must treat this for what it is: one theater that requires a unified approach.

The President laid out, in vivid terms, why this is so important that we achieve success in our mission in both countries. Let me quote from his speech laying out the new strategy. I am quoting President Obama:

"Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the U.S. homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban--or allows Al Qaeda to go unchallenged--that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

It gets no clearer than that. The very people who attacked us on 9/11 are plotting future attacks on us in Afghanistan and the border region in Pakistan. We must disrupt and neutralize these groups before they strike again.

A theme I have emphasized in recent weeks is that the President, supported by his Cabinet officers and top aides, must continue to engage the American people on why our mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan is so essential to our national security. In other words, it is not enough to have one Presidential speech on our strategy and then
to ignore the issue. I know this President, and I understand he will not do that. Instead, he will continue to talk about the importance of the sacrifices being made by our fighting men and women in that theater. He will lay out a series of benchmarks to measure progress by the Afghan and Pakistani Governments and then give us clear indications
as to how they are doing. The American people will support their Commander in Chief but only provided they are given updates on the progress achieved at regular intervals.

Let me conclude with one final observation. During the lead up to and the early execution of the Iraq war, the Congress was rightly criticized for being missing in action. Tough questions on our mission and our strategy were not asked often enough. Administration assertions were too often taken at face value. We cannot allow that to happen again, not in a military conflict so vital to the security of the American people.

I support the President wholeheartedly, but that support is neither blind nor unthinking. I happen to chair the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee responsible for the Middle East and South Asia. Accordingly, Afghanistan and Pakistan fall within my subcommittee's jurisdiction. I intend to hold hearings later this year to review the
administration's implementation of the strategy it announced recently, with a special focus on the promised benchmarks for success in both countries.

Effective congressional oversight is essential if the United States is to have unity of purpose and unity of will to, as the President has said, disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

Madam President, I yield the floor;