WASHINGTON – The day after President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by fall 2012,the Senate Foreign Relations Committee discussed conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
During the meeting Thursday,committee members expressed concerns about the money the government is spending,how successful the operations have been and the future of the United States’ involvement in these countries.
Clinton told the committee she completely agrees with Obama’s decision to withdraw 33,000 troops by 2012,leaving about 70,000. Obama will withdraw 5,000 immediately and another 5,000 by the end of 2011.
In a separate hearing,Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen told lawmakers in the House Armed Services Committee that he supports Obama’s plan.
Clinton said the cost of the United State’s three-part strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan,including the military surge,civilian surge and diplomatic surge is high,but the country is saving money in the long run by getting it right.
“The three surges are designed to work hand-in-hand,” Clinton said. “You cannot slash one and expect the other two to succeed.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer,D-Calif.,was concerned about the money these operations are costing and if the troops who will remain in Afghanistan are necessary for the mission.
Clinton said those troops will continue training and mentoring Afghans,and there will still be combat,but in a more limited field.
“This is the right pace of withdraw,” Clinton said.
She said that,even after 2014,she expects there will be a NATO presence in Afghanistan to give support.
Clinton listed several examples to illustrate the improvements the U.S. has made in Afghanistan. She said economic growth is up,opium production is down,7.1 million students are enrolled in school,37 percent of them girls. That compares to 900,000 boys and zero girls enrolled when the Taliban ruled. She said infant mortality is down by 22 percent.
“Despite the many challenges that remain,life is better for most Afghans,” Clinton said. “We are and should be encouraged by what we have accomplished.”
Sen. John Kerry,D-Mass.,the committee chair,questioned Clinton about whether the U.S. is investing enough time in Pakistan,which could pose a higher threat to Americans.
“Most of the Pakistanis consider us an enemy,” Kerry said. “In many ways,the Afghanistan war is a side show to the main event,if you will,that is next door.”
“We know that al-Qaida has a far more significant presence in Pakistan than in Afghanistan,” Lugar said. “To the extent that our purpose in Afghanistan is to confront global terrorist threats,we should be refocusing resources on Pakistan,Yemen,Somalia,parts of North Africa and other locations.”
Lugar said it’s worth the cost to have a bigger presence in Pakistan because of the possible threats.
Clinton said it’s difficult to keep the Pakistanis on track and to earn their trust,but the United States will continue to try.
“We are going to continue to make clear our expectations,we’re going to continue to try to work with them across the entire political spectrum,we’re going to demand more from them,” Clinton said. “But we are not going to expect any miracles overnight.”
Reach reporter Lindsey Erdody at [email protected] or 202-326-9866
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