Casey Speech on Afghanistan; 56th Stryker Brigade Return from Iraq

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 on the role of the U.S. in bolstering the Afghan National Army and on the return of Pennsylvania National Guard troops, the 56th Stryker Brigade, from a tour in Iraq.

Senator Casey’s remarks are below.


Remarks of U.S. Senator Bob Casey
October 8, 2009

Mr. President, I rise today with regard to the debate on the U.S. role in Afghanistan with a special focus on building the Afghan National Army.  I would also like to recognize the dedication of the Pennsylvania National Guard. 

The challenge we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan is grave.  In order to get it right, we need to debate these issues thoroughly. 

On the Foreign Relations Committee, we have had several opportunities to examine the military, political, diplomatic and regional implications of our presence in Afghanistan.  Chairman Kerry has taken a very comprehensive approach and I applaud his efforts.  I also support the Administration’s deliberate consideration in making this strategic determination.   When weighing such serious issues, there is nothing wrong with taking the time to make sure we have it right. 

I also welcome the contributions from Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman, all respected voices on national security and foreign policy.  There is not a Democratic solution to this problem.  There is not a Republican solution to this problem.  But I think that only by working together can we develop the best strategy.  We can’t simply use sound bites to communicate the complexities of this conflict. Especially in this case, politics should indeed stop at the water’s edge. 

Let me say at the outset that our problems in Afghanistan are political in nature and will ultimately require a political solution.  This does not mean that additional troops may not be needed but does indicate to me that our strategy needs to reflect a deeper commitment to supporting Afghans in their efforts to better provide security, goods and services to their own people.  Ultimately our success will come in empowering Afghan institutions to address their own internal security.  In some cases, this may mean co-opting certain elements of the Taliban, in other cases, taking them on directly.  We are now at a stage where the U.S. can play a positive role in making sure that the political framework for the country is sound.  This is not about imposing our will, but using diplomacy and development assistance to ensure that Afghanistan is put on sound political footing.

Chairman Levin has helped to focus attention on the critical importance of training the Afghan National Army, the ANA.  I applaud his leadership in this regard and support his call for an acceleration of troop training to a level of 240,000 ANA troops by 2012.  While there is some disagreement over these training timelines, no one disputes the central importance of getting the Afghan security forces trained well and soon.  As this force is prepared to provide security, it will decrease the need for a robust U.S. presence in the country.  I want to applaud the efforts of Major General Formica, the head of a U.S. unit charged with training the Afghan troops. 

While the ANA certainly needs substantial additional assistance, we need to acknowledge the fact that this fighting force did not exist 7 years ago.  Due in large part to the extraordinary efforts of the coalition forces, and people like Major General Formica, the ANA can be considered a measured success.  Without these remarkable efforts, the ANA would not be in a position to grow at the pace necessary in the coming months. 

Challenges do however remain and this training process will not be easy.  A little more than 40% of the population in Afghanistan are of the Pashtun ethnicity, though they are not fully represented in an army at these levels.  The officer corps of the ANA, based on traditions that go back decades, is primarily made up of Tajiks, who represent just over 25% of the population.  The most substantial fighting in Afghanistan currently takes place in the “Pashtun belt” an area of the country in the south and east, along the border with Pakistan.  I hope that the ANA can continue take these important ethnicity concerns into consideration as they grow the force. 

Second, Afghanistan has a very high illiteracy rate, some estimate as high as 70%.  This presents considerable complications in troop training as recruits aren’t able to write or read orders, understand maps or interpret instructions on how to operate equipment.  Our trainers have come up with creative training techniques using pictures, but this is no substitute for the basic skills required in a modern army. 

The third challenge, and perhaps the most significant, is posed by the substantial resources needed to stand up such a force.  Army recruits are paid $100 per month while there are reports that the Taliban pay as much as $300 per month.  The ANA should begin to address that discrepancy.  Overall, the costs of maintaining this expanded force will be considerable and it is not likely that the Afghan government will be able to shoulder this burden any time soon.  We need to be honest about that.  It will be expensive.  But nowhere near as expensive as the continued deployment and costs associated with maintaining international coalition forces.  

I have tried to outline just some of the realistic challenges that we face in standing up the Afghan army.  Afghan Defense Minister Wardak, whom I met during my trip there in August, oversees this effort from Kabul.  Minister Wardak has been commended for his leadership of the Afghan armed forces and he believes that these ambitious troop increases are challenging but possible.  I hope we can aggressively pursue Chairman Levin’s plan – no matter what comes of the President’s strategy.  An expanded and enhanced Afghan army should be a central part of the equation.  In the final analysis Mr. President, this fight against the Taliban is an Afghan fight.  We need to be there to support them, but a stable and peaceful Afghanistan will ultimately depend on how well the Afghan government can provide security for its own people.

In closing Mr. President I would like to recognize the contributions of the 56th Stryker Brigade, which recently returned to homes and families across Pennsylvania.  For nine months, the 56th Stryker Brigade has been deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq.  Here, these civilian soldiers, known as the Independence Brigade, worked side by side with their Iraqi counterparts to continue to bring stability and security to the Iraqi people.  

On the front lines, they patrolled neighborhoods in unrelenting conditions, targeted insurgents, and swept for improvised explosion devices (IEDs).  They performed more than 800 combined operations, captured seven brigade-level high valued targets, and discovered more than 80 enemy weapon caches.   Any success we’ve had in Iraq is not only the result of military achievements.  In this regard, it is equally important to recognize the $22 million in reconstruction efforts that the 56th Stryker Brigade assisted with in coordination with an embedded U.S. provincial reconstruction team.

While these young men and women are now home, we must also remember those who fell in battle.  Two members of the 56th give “the last full measure of devotion.”  Specialist Chad Edmundson of Williamsburg was killed by an IED and Staff Sergeant Mark Baum of Quakertown was killed by enemy small arms fire.   To these soldiers’ families and friends, I want to express condolence and gratitude on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania for their sacrifice.   Please know that our prayers are with you, and that we will never take for granted their personal courage and sacrifice.  We pray for Chad and Mark and ourselves that we may be worthy of their valor.

While deployed, many things may have changed for these members of the Pennsylvania National Guard.  For example, some service members met their sons and daughters for the first time.  Nevertheless for all, a time of readjustment and reintegration back into their communities and daily lives lies ahead.  

I want the National Guard to know that I will always be committed to helping them during this phase.  I know that there are other Guard members who bear scars from battle, some visible and some not.  The United States Senate must ensure that our citizen soldiers’ jobs are maintained while they are deployed and we must provide opportunities for them to find employment upon their return.  For this reason, I will continue to urge my colleagues to take up and adopt the Service Members Access to Justice Act and the FORCE Act, which will make National Guard assistance programs more effective and responsive, and ensure that National Guard troops keep their jobs and employment benefits as required under law.

Again, I want to express my appreciation to the 56th Stryker Brigade and all of our men and women in service.

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