Casey Discusses Situation in Afghanistan, Outlines Expectations for War Review

WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the state of the war in Afghanistan and President Obama’s upcoming review of the war.  

“At a strategic level, too many questions remain as we head into the December review,” said Senator Casey.  “Ultimately, there must be a political solution to end the war in Afghanistan.  I am not suggesting that we are close to seeing this happen, but we need to know the degree to which the administration and the Karzai government are coordinated and headed down this path.”

Senator Casey has worked to combat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Last month, Senator Casey chaired a committee hearing on the topic and today vowed to continue to press governments in the region to restrict the availability of bomb making components.

“All the key players appear to be on the same page, but there still has not yet been a significant decrease in these deadly weapons in Afghanistan,” said Senator Casey. “I trust that the December review will address the flow of ammonium nitrate and I look forward to continue working closely with the administration on this issue.”

The full text of Senator Casey’s speech is below:

Senator Robert P. Casey
Remarks on the war in Afghanistan

Mr. President, this month the Obama administration will submit its review of the war in Afghanistan.  I expect that this review will provide answers to the key questions before us, questions that the American people deserve answers to.  These questions fall into three broad categories: Afghan governance, development and humanitarian efforts and establishing a sustainable security environment.

Since announcement of the new strategy in December 2009, and deployment of 30,000 additional troops, I have sought to carefully monitor U.S. progress toward its goals.  As part of this effort, I have paid special attention to combating the top killer of U.S. troops, improvised explosive devices.  I chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on this topic on November 18th and will continue to press our government and governments in the region to do more to restrict the availability of components that make up these terrible weapons.  

I am pleased that significant progress has been made by the Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense to coordinate an all-of-government approach to this problem.  And I want to applaud the recent efforts of the Afghan security forces who seized one metric ton of ammonium nitrate on Monday in Zabul province.  All the key players appear to be on the same page, but there still has not yet been a significant decrease in these deadly weapons in Afghanistan.  I trust that the December review will address the flow of ammonium nitrate and I look forward to continue working closely with the administration on this issue.

At a strategic level, too many questions remain as we head into the December review.   I would like to list some of these issues today.

In the area of governance, I have two key questions that I hope the December review will address.

First, do we have a political strategy in place to ensure that the Afghan government is prepared to enact reforms that concretely show the population that it represents their key interests and concerns?  I believe that our efforts to pressure the Afghan government have been uneven in this area, due in large part to a reluctance to pressure a mercurial Afghan leadership.  

Any security gains in Afghanistan can be easily squandered without serious progress on governance.  The U.S., ISAF and Afghan security forces are sacrificing too much as the Afghan government fails to enact reforms in the best interests of the Afghan people.  It will be difficult to succeed in Afghanistan without a strategy to help build the institutions of governance including the judiciary, political parties, electoral institutions.

As difficult as these interactions may be, the international community must be more willing to confront the Afghan government on issues of political representation, corruption and the rule of law. And we should stand ready to help build and develop these democratic institutions.

The 2009 presidential elections and 2010 parliament were rife with problems that seriously undermined the confidence of the international community in Afghanistan’s ability to conduct elections free of fraud and manipulation.  If the electoral process remains deeply flawed, the Afghan people’s support for the democratic process itself may well erode.  

While the government has said that it wants to develop a “strategy for long-term electoral reform that addresses in particular the sustainability of the electoral process” few steps have been taken in this direction.  The election law is in need of serious reform.  The executive branch has nearly exclusive power over the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission.  The Single Non-transferable Vote System impedes the development of political parties, an essential long term way to organize and represent the interests of the Afghan people.  

Corruption continues to be a serious issue that affects citizens, especially in the southern part of the country.  A recent public opinion survey conducted by the Washington Post, ABC News, the BBC, and ARD television of Germany showed that 55 percent of respondents in Kandahar say they have been asked for bribes from the police, well above the national figure of 21 percent.  Moreover, most Kandahar residents said that their situation would only get worse if they exercised due process and filed a complaint about a public official.

U.S. efforts to improve governance at times competes with our security concerns.  There is an inherent tension between U.S. and ISAF forces efforts to engage to combat extremist elements at the local level and cooperation with warlords that rule over certain areas.  While there is an imperative to collect intelligence and conduct operations that may require cooperation with local power brokers, I am concerned about the long term cost of such interaction.  Are we empowering another generation of local powerbrokers who have little regard for representing the interests of the local population?  

It is a simple fact -- disaffection among Afghan citizens with the central government and local power brokers provide recruiting opportunities for the Taliban.  This is a serious concern because it gets at the heart of our engagement in Afghanistan – cooperation with local warlords can provide short-term security gains, but what is the long term impact?  I hope that the December review will address this issue.

Question number two. What is the state of the reconciliation process with the Taliban?  I have expressed serious concerns about the impact of negotiations with the Taliban on women and other vulnerable groups in Afghanistan.  My concern grew in reading the poll numbers from Afghanistan – there was a 13 point jump from last year among respondents who say women's rights are suffering.

The December review should address the current state of play with respect to negotiations.  The recent Afghan poll showed that nearly three-quarters of Afghans now believe their government should pursue negotiations with the Taliban, with almost two-thirds willing to accept a deal allowing Taliban leaders to hold political office.

Ultimately, there must be a political solution to end the war in Afghanistan.  I am not suggesting that we are close to seeing this happen, but we need to know the degree to which the administration and the Karzai government are coordinated and headed down this path.  International engagement on any negotiation process will be essential to its long term success -- Pakistan has a role to play here and is a necessary element to any long lasting peace.
U.S. operations in southern Afghanistan appear to be having a positive impact on Afghan public opinion.  Sixty-seven percent of people in the province of Helmand describe their security as "good", a 14 point jump from December 2009. And nearly two-thirds of Helmand residents state that Afghanistan is on the right track.

This is an indication that positive momentum has been built in Afghanistan’s most sensitive region.  But such gains can be short-lived and in order to facilitate a sustainable security, we must take a long term approach to ensure that the Afghan government can provide for its own security.

The training of the Afghan National Security Forces is a key threshold question.  We cannot allow Afghanistan to become a haven once again for Al Qaeda or other extremist groups to launch attacks against the U.S.  ISAF forces have denied Al Qaeda this haven since 2001.  However, we cannot provide this security in perpetuity.  The Afghans have to assume more responsibility for their own security and we must do all we can to prepare the Afghan national security forces for that day.  

So where do we stand at this point?  I would have to say that the view is decidedly mixed.  For years, the international community exercised what could be characterized as gross neglect in building an indigenous Afghan security force and only recently have we begun to take on this task.  

First, the positive.

Under the leadership of LTG Caldwell, the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (NTM-A) has seen some noteworthy progress.  The Afghan National Army and Police are exceeding their recruiting goals.  As of August of this year, the ANA total strength had grown to 138,164 exceeding the goal for October 2010 by more than 8,000 troops.   As of August, the ANP had an end strength of 119,639, exceeding the 2010 goal of 109,000.  These recruitment numbers are an important sign of progress, but serious concerns remain related to the quality of the force, the retention rate and low literacy.  

The ANA has significant shortages in Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer leadership.  Effective junior leaders are essential to a professional force since they control immediate on-the-ground situations.   

The Ministry of Defense and NTM-A are working to overcome a shortfall of more than 4,500 ANA Officers.  There are more Officer Candidate School units, twice as many seats in the Mujahedeen Integration Course, and larger classes at the National Military Academy.

As for Non-Commissioned Officers, the ANA faces a shortage of more than 10,500.  Similar expansions in training capacity and direct entry programs are underway to address this deficiency.  According to a recent Pentagon report, this gap will not be closed until the end of FY 2012.  

Mr. President, the Pentagon also reports that we face a shortfall of more than 900 international trainers in Afghanistan.  I hope that our allies in ISAF can help to address this training need.  Many European countries have a proud history of developing elite paramilitary forces.  This valued expertise is needed in Afghanistan.

While expanding capacity is critical to growing the force, I hope the December review will address not just the efforts to grow more leaders, but also describe how those leaders are laying the foundation for professionalizing the ANSF.

For years, the ANSF attrition rate has been an issue.  Facilitating rapid growth while increasing quality, requires that retention rates remain high.  

In January 2010, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board approved the goal of developing a force of 305,600 personnel by October 2011.  Recruiting efforts paired with increased retention have allowed the force to grow ahead of schedule so far.  Moving forward, projections are uncertain.  The DoD reports that the Afghan National Police has met attrition and retention goals.  However, the ANA still has issues with attrition that may impact its ability to maintain its impressive growth.  This month’s review should clarify projections and detail efforts to boost retention.

Literacy rates are low in the ANSF and must be addressed.  Consider this story from LTG Caldwell.  

He visited a base in northern Afghanistan where 90% of the troops claimed they had been unpaid for months.  To limit corruption, the government had been paying the troops by electronic funds transfer instead of cash.   The troops had no idea, however, since they could not read their bank statements.  

Or, think about weapons security.  How can a soldier be sure he has his assigned weapon if he cannot read a serial number?
Illiteracy is widespread in the force; only 11% of enlisted personnel can read, write, or do simple math.  This creates significant challenges in professionalizing the ANSF.  

In response, a huge literacy program has grown around the fielding of ANSF.  NTM-A, in collaboration with ANSF, have made literacy training mandatory.  28,534 ANSF are currently in literacy training at any given time and according to NTM-A, the goal is to increase capacity to 100,000 by July 2011.  

These literacy programs will have transformative impact beyond ANSF service.  Benefits will be significant and long-lasting:  literate parents will be more likely to encourage their children to read, returning soldiers will be more skilled members of the workforce, and productivity will increase.  

I am pleased to see some progress in training the ANSF.  A qualified Afghan solider is much cheaper to train, equip and field than an American, so the overall cost to the U.S. taxpayer would certainly diminish as the U.S. draws down.  But by investing in this large force, there are long term implications.  Do we expect to pay for the Afghan security forces 10 years from now?  20 years from now?  At what point will the Afghan government be able to collect its own revenue to fund its security as well as other priorities?

This again is an area where responsible Afghan governance is essential.  While the international community will shoulder much of the humanitarian and security burden in the short term, the Afghan government needs to take steps to increase its domestic revenue collection and develop a minerals framework law.  This important legislative step would help to address concerns by potential investors.  

The international community should also take more proactive steps to develop the necessary infrastructure so that Afghanistan’s mineral wealth can efficiently move to international markets.

In closing, we also have an obligation to talk about the human toll of this war, because it is enormous.  Communities across America have been devastated by the losses of fallen warriors and wounded warriors in Afghanistan.  

In Pennsylvania alone, we have lost 61 service members since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.  I would like to share the story of one service member now.  
Two weeks ago, Pennsylvania lost Army Staff Sergeant Sean Flannery who died a hero in Afghanistan.  

From Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, Staff Sgt Flannery was an infantry squad leader.  He was killed after delivering first aid to a wounded Afghan soldier.  As he and his team carried the man to an evacuation helicopter, they stepped on an improvised explosive device, killing Sean and another soldier.  Staff Sgt Flannery was 29 years old.

Staff Sgt Flannery graduated from Wyomissing High School in 1999 and Shippensburg University in 2003.  He was on his fourth tour of duty after having served two tours in Iraq and a prior tour in Afghanistan.  During one of those deployments he earned a bronze star.  For his heroism last week, he earned another.

Staff Sgt Flannery’s high school classmate Matt Rader paid tribute to his friend at a service earlier this week.  “His fellow soldiers talked about how much they respected him, for what a great leader he was, and how they had true love for him, and not a word of it surprised us.  He was the type of guy everybody wants their son to be – loyal, humble and generous.  I was honored to have him as a friend.”

I am honored to represent such heroes from across Pennsylvania.  We pray for Sean and his family.  We also pray for ourselves, and hope that we will be worthy of the valor and ultimate sacrifice of Staff Sgt Flannery and many others like him.