Mr. Chairman, Representative McHugh, members of the committee, thank you for inviting us to testify before you today. We have a -- I have a longer statement that we’ve submitted for the record. As you’ve noted, I’ve just returned from Afghanistan, where I met with Afghan officials, U.S. commanders, our civilian colleagues, and our European allies. And this is an opportune time to discuss our endeavors in that country.
I would tell you that when I took this job, it seemed to me that the two highest priorities that I had were our wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. If I’m not mistaken, I just finished my sixth trip to Iraq and, I think, maybe my fourth trip to Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the news we sometimes hear out of Afghanistan, the efforts of the United States, our allies and the Afghan government and people have been producing some solid results. If I had to sum up the current situation in Afghanistan, I would say there is reason for optimism, but tempered by caution.
Projects that will have a real impact on the lives of citizens are under way, with the construction of utilities, roads and schools. The Congress has appropriated about $10 billion in security and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan for fiscal year 2007 – almost three times the previous year’s appropriation. I thank you, the members of Congress, for your strong support of this effort. Admiral Mullen will speak in more detail about some of the activities made possible by the funding increase with regard to Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Afghan security force, as well as our own endeavors.
We’ve just passed the first anniversary of NATO’s taking over all responsibility for helping Afghans secure their democracy.
The first half of 2007, NATO and coalition forces took the initiative away from the Taliban. Contributions from our civilian colleagues helped secure these military gains. Afghan forces played a key role, demonstrating their improved capability in the last year, and indeed Afghan security forces have led the fight to retake Musa Qal’eh in recent days.
As you know, in 2007, the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan increased. The insurgents have resorted more and more to suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices similar to those found in Iraq. As I learned during my visit, some of the uptick can be attributed to increased Afghan and ISAF operations. The Taliban and their former guests, al Qaeda, do not have the ability to reimpose their rule, but only in a truly secure environment can reconstruction projects take root and rule of law be consolidated. That environment has not yet been fully achieved, but we are working toward it.
As you know, the drug trade continues to threaten the foundations of Afghan society and this young government. To attack this corrosive problem, a counternarcotics strategy is being implemented that combines five pillars: alternative development, interdiction, eradication, public information and reform of the justice sector. I hope that the coming year will show results.
There also needs to be more effective coordination of assistance to the government of Afghanistan. A strong civilian representative is needed to coordinate all nations and key international organizations on the ground. We and others have worked with the Karzai government to identify a suitable candidate. I’m hopeful this exhaustive search will be completed soon.
The final point I’ll turn to – and it is an extremely important one, and both you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. McHugh referred to this – is the willingness of our NATO allies to meet their commitments.
Since ISAF assumed responsibility for all of Afghanistan in October 2006, the number of non-U.S. troops has increased by about 3,500. NATO still has shortcomings – shortfalls in meeting minimum requirements in troops, equipment and other resources. I leave for Scotland tomorrow for a meeting of defense ministers of the countries involved in Regional Command South, and this will certainly be on the agenda.
The Afghanistan mission has exposed real limitations in the way the alliance is or organized, operated and equipped. I believe the problem arises in a large part due to the way various allies view the very nature of the alliance in the 21st century, where in a post-Cold War environment, we have to be ready to operate in distant locations against insurgencies and terrorist networks.
I would also like to stress the role Congress can play in this endeavor. If other governments are pressured by this body and by the Senate as well as by those of us in the executive branch, it may help push them to do the difficult work of persuading their own citizens of the need to step up to this challenge.
Let me close by telling you about a region I visited last week, a region that demonstrates why I am cautiously hopeful about the mission in Afghanistan. For years, and even decades, the Khowst region has been a hotbed of lawlessness and insurgent activity.
Things are very different today. Under the strong leadership of an honest and capable governor, and with Afghans in the lead, there have been remarkable gains as security forces, local organizations and the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team, with representatives from the State Department, USAID and the Department of Agriculture, have worked in tandem to promote civic and economic and development. Where last year there was one suicide bombing per week, now there is on average one per month.
As the governor said to me, through our combined efforts more has been accomplished in the past eight months than in the prior five years.
Khowst is a model of the integration of hard and soft power in a counterinsurgency campaign. And it is an example of what can be done in other regions.
You have asked us to talk about the way forward. I would tell you that I proposed at the last NATO defense ministerial that NATO put together a strategic concept paper looking forward three to five years; where do we want to be in Afghanistan and what will be the measures of progress? We will be talking about that in Scotland over the next couple of days. The rest of the alliance defense ministers have embraced this idea, and my hope is that we can present such a strategic concept paper to the heads of state at their meeting in Bucharest next spring.
A moderate, stable Afghanistan is crucial to the strategic security of the United States and its allies. The elected leaders of the countries that make up our alliance have said as much. Afghans have the will to keep their nation in the democratic fold, and we need to match their determination with the necessary resolve and resources to get the job done.