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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing on Afghanistan

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BIDEN:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. President, welcome. It's presumptuous of me to say this, but I consider you a friend. I think you are the only one at the moment that had the potential to unite a country in a way that's badly needed. And quite frankly, I think we owe you a debt of gratitude, as well as your colleagues sitting behind you, for the genuine and sometimes underestimated compromises and concessions you all made in order to bring about this transition government and your willingness to serve.

It is one thing when I was in your office, as the lights flickered on and off, not but a little over a year ago, I remember saying to you that in my country, when we lose an election, we get a pension. In your country, you may get a grave plot.

And I want to pay personal tribute and acknowledge for everyone to understand that all of you and your colleagues behind you, you are literally not only risking your fortunes—whatever they may be—and your careers, you're risking your lives to try to bring about a free and democratic Afghanistan, something that you all long for, I know. And I just want to publicly acknowledge that and tell you how much I admire it, along with your ministers as well.
The first time I met President Karzai was in January of last year in Kabul. And I was scheduled to have a brief courtesy call.

But the legendary hospitality of the Afghan people came to play. I found that, I think at one point, Mr. Chairman, the president thought I may be like the poor relative who gets invited, shows up and never leaves. A lunch went to a breakfast to a dinner to a lunch.

I think I spent a considerable amount of time with the president. And not only that, he and his colleagues made available to me anyone and everyone who I wished to see.

And the openness with which I had access during that period, at a time that was just after the Taliban had been expelled, was quite frankly remarkable. I have been in this job for some time and visited other places in similar circumstances. And I've never been as openly and more frankly greeted by everyone.

And again, you have done a remarkable job. But everyone should understand, there are significant divisions that exist within your country among those who seek a democratic nation.

And the burning question of the Afghan people, relayed to me first by President Karzai and then reinforced by other Afghans in the year since, is quite simple. The question is not: why is the United States in Afghanistan? The question is: will you stay the course? Will we become the back page of the newspaper? Will we become the previous major crisis? And will people walk away?

Every day I spent in Kabul, I was asked variants of the same question over and over and over again, as well as in Bagram, I was asked the question over and over again. Will the United States declare victory and go home?
The people of Afghanistan have very long memories. I will never forget what your minister sitting directly behind you said to me when we had what was not a heated, but a frank discussion in his office.

And he said to me, "Senator, the Afghan people know the difference between liberators and occupiers." We know the difference between liberators and occupiers. And we measure that—I'm paraphrasing now - we measure that in part by the willingness to fulfill a commitment.

With war clouds gathering over Iraq and an unacknowledged crisis looming in North Korea, public attention in Washington has shifted away from our unfinished business in Afghanistan. In some parts of the administration, nation building is still a dirty phrase.

But the alternative to nation building is chaos, a chaos that churns out bloodthirsty warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists. And we have seen it happen in Afghanistan before. And I am, quite frankly, fearful it may happen again, notwithstanding your considerable efforts.
Warlords, drugs, terrorists—the connection is clear as a bell. Terrorists use drug profits to buy safe havens from warlords. That's pretty much the defined state of Afghanistan through the '90s. And sadly enough, it looks to me, unless we make some significant changes, it looks to me like it may define everything outside of Kabul in the future.
As President Bush said in another context - quote - "This looks like a rerun of a bad movie. I'm not interested in watching it." End of quote.

Well, we've already seen the coming attractions. And the feature is loaded on the next reel.

Warlords. Instead of accepting our NATO allies, after the Taliban were removed, to shape the burden of peacekeeping in Afghanistan, we placed responsibility for security outside Kabul on unsteady shoulders of Afghan's warlords. We call them "regional commanders" now.

But many observers would have less savory names for them. We pay them millions of dollars and we don't demand much in exchange.

Let's remember that it was the brutal anarchy of the warlords that caused the people of Afghanistan to welcome the Taliban's rise to power. In the mid-'90s, even the rough justice meted out by the Taliban was regarded by some Afghans as preferable to the utter chaos that preceded it.

Today, many of the very same warlords ousted from power are back in their old lairs. Murder, rape, theft, torture - they are instruments of policy now in some places. And the central government, with few resources of its own, is - in my view - powerless to do much about it in some parts of Afghanistan.

At our hearing two weeks ago, the witnesses from the Department of Defense cited the alleged order of Afghanistan as evidence that our policy was succeeding. But the Taliban imposed a far greater degree of order than is currently in place today, even in parts of the country that are considered peaceful. And order, based on the rule of warlords, is little better than no order at all, in my view.

Despite President Karzai's valiant efforts, Afghanistan has now regained its status as the world's largest source of opium. In 2002, according to the UN, Afghan produced 3,400 tons of drugs. That's more than 18 times the amount produced during the last year of the Taliban rule.

And I want to make it clear, Mr. President, it has nothing to do with your being in power. You don't have the resources. You have not had the capability.

The value of this harvest to growers and traffickers was $2.5 billion, more than double the entire amount of aid given to Afghanistan by all nations combined in the year 2002. We have seen what happens when warlords and drug traffickers take over a country. They soon make their nation a haven for terrorists.

That's what happened under the Taliban and, I believe, if we're not careful, it's going to happen again. One year ago, we were hunting high and low for a fellow named Osama bin Laden, a name you hardly ever hear part the lips of the president or anyone in this administration today. One year later, we're still hunting for him, along with his deputy, Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

One year later, it seems bin Laden is very much alive, most likely hidden somewhere in Afghanistan or across the border in Pakistan. One year ago, we were hoping to roll up al-Qaeda and its allies like an old rug. One year later, we're on orange alert, the second highest threat level, only reached twice since 9/11, due to continuing al-Qaeda activities.

Mr. Chairman, the facts make one thing very clear. We have a great deal of work left to do in Afghanistan and a continued obligation to the men sitting in front of us to allow them to be able to do the work that needs to be done.
Just two months ago, the president signed the Afghan Freedom Support Act of 2002. I am very proud of the fact that this landmark piece of legislation, sponsored by Senator Hagel and co-sponsored by me and Senator Lugar, was pushed forward by this committee during the period of my chairmanship. Your own leadership on this issue, Mr. Chairman, was critical in winning passage of this vitally important act.

The act authorized $3.3 billion for reconstruction and security of Afghanistan, over and above whatever funds the president might see fit to allocate from other sources. In recognition of the fact that Afghanistan's recovery is a long-term effort and in recognition of America's continued commitment, this sum was structured as a four-year authorization.

The administration budget request looks only one year to the future and proposes funding at about the same level as the previous two fiscal years. I think this falls far short of President Bush's commitment to - in his words, not mine - a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan.

I think we should give President Karzai and his folks the resources necessary to get this country back on its feet. But no amount of aid will achieve that goal without security. And security is jeopardized by the administration's decision not to seek an expansion of the UN-mandated peacekeeping force outside of Kabul. On that, we agree.

We're already seeing Afghanistan drop from the radar screen. What level of commitment will the administration display once Afghanistan has to line up behind Iraq, North Korea and whatever comes next?

And Mr. Chairman, let's remember why you, Senator Hagel and I, along with our colleagues on this committee, decided to pass the Afghan Freedom Support Act in the first place. I can sum it up in three words: warlords, drugs and terrorism.

We did it to prevent Afghanistan's future from becoming a replay of its past. We did for the sake of the people of Afghanistan. And we also did for the sake of our own national security.

Mr. Chairman, as I said at the outset, we are very fortunate to have as a guest the distinguished president of Afghanistan with us today. And I look forward to hearing his thoughts. Knowing him to be the gentleman he is, I don't look for him to be particularly critical of anybody.

I realize he is in—my editorial comment - in a somewhat difficult position. But Mr. President, we're going to try to help you more than you may even want or you may be willing to say right here because we need you badly to succeed.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman

BIDEN:
Mr. President, Lord Robertson, NATO outgoing, on February the 20th, as secretary general of NATO, indicated that he thought that he left the door open at least to whether or not NATO should formally be taking over the leadership of ISAF after the German-Dutch stint is over in June. And he raised the issue of whether or not ISAF should be expanded beyond Kabul.

Now I appreciate your support, as Minister Abdullah's nodding at the time was support, of these reconstruction teams. And it may be unfair to ask you this question, so you can demur if you wish. You can not answer if you wish.
But given the choice of the expansion of the reconstruction teams, which are now in Gardayz and are going to be going in March to Kondoz and somewhere else, I'm not sure.

KARZAI:
Bamian.

BIDEN:
Bamian. Would you rather see the expansion of ISAF under the leadership of NATO, like we have done in effect in other areas of the world? Or do you prefer these PRTs, these provincial reconstruction teams? Assuming you had a choice.

KARZAI:
The expansion of - the question was not put to us in Kabul by the Germans and the Dutch leadership of ISAF now as to expansion of ISAF under NATO; rather, that NATO would take over once Germany's term finishes in six months or a year's time and, if the ISAF presence continues in Kabul, that that leadership would be taken over by NATO.
The question of expansion wasn't discussed.

BIDEN:
I understand that. I'll make it clear.

KARZAI:
Yes.

BIDEN:
This is something that was raised by Lord Robertson as a possibility, something where - quote - "the door was left open." And the question is: do you want us pushing on that door to make it further open? Or do you think that is not the way to go, assuming you had that option?

I'm sure you've been basically told you don't have that option now.

KARZAI:
Yes. Well, we have three things in mind. First of all, the PRTs in Afghanistan are not related to ISAF activities.

BIDEN:
I know.

KARZAI:
The PRTs are a different function. They are provincial reconstruction teams, working with reconstruction activity in Afghanistan, rather than doing a security job in the country.

I have not received any application so far, in the past four or five months, from any Afghan province with regard to the expansion of ISAF there. If it is decided - and the country is moving slowly, slowly towards better stability and security.

But if there is a need to expand ISAF to the provinces, the Afghan government would not be against it. We would welcome it.

However, we would prefer a speeding up of the training of the National Afghan Army. That should be the element on which there should be focus, especially from the United States and other countries that are supporting Afghanistan.
So the improvement in the training and in the speed of the Afghan Army is what we require right now. And then the job of ISAF can be done by the Afghan Army.

BIDEN:
I understand that. But you have 3,000 trained Afghan military now. It is estimated by your own people that, by contrast, the warlords have militias that are estimated at 700,000 people total.

And even your defense minister, Mr. Fahim, echoed a statement when he said, "We should have powerful central government, according to the wishes of our people. And to achieve this aim, we should make some sacrifices. We should give up some position that's very necessary that we come under the command of the central government. So let's put an end to the local military power bases."

In contrast to one of the statements made by the representative from the White House who said that referred to the need for you to compromise with the warlords.

I'm confused by the assertion made by the administration representative to you, which indicates that this is a - quote - "two- way street," that you have to make compromises with the warlords, as opposed to the need for there to be more control, increasing control and ultimately one army, the only army of Afghanistan, meaning the army of the central government.

In Herat, if I understand it correctly, Mr. Ishmael Kahn has concluded that women should begin wearing burkas again, that change has taken place, that the Iranians are, in fact, at least in conversation with him occasionally. So I'm a bit confused as to how you exercise any authority, absent either a significant, rapid increase in your military - central government military - which his a function of what the warlords do and don't do, and/or have a temporary expansion of ISAF to give you the ability to have that kind of control. That's my quandary.

And by the way, last point and my time is up. The PRTs have been offered here by Mr. Feith (ph) as an alternative to the expansion of ISAF, just so you know how it's being sold here.

KARZAI:
I see.
Well, I do not know of the PRT program as an alternative to ISAF. I see it as an extended reconstruction activity in Afghanistan, the provinces of Afghanistan. And the idea is very good. We really support it.

With regard to the existing forces in Afghanistan, the number is not 700,000. The number, in real terms, probably can come down to about 100,000 forces in Afghanistan. And we are going to ask the U.S. government to provide us support for those 100,000 while we are working on the DDR, while we are working on the training of the National Army of Afghanistan, so that in the meantime, those soldiers are not left without payment or without salaries so that they remain well behaved.

The question of the provincial forces, to the outside world, it really looks that they are totally free and of their own will. It is not like that.

The gentlemen that are appointed to the provinces as governors are appointed by my signature. And they can be removed with my signature.

So the authority of the government of Afghanistan is much more there than one can imagine from outside. I see a lot of the press reports, coming from the western press especially, of warlords and provincial people. It is not like that.
The government has much more authority in charge in the country than you can presume. It's probably better than lots of other countries around us, our situation.

So the question of the expansion of ISAF, let me repeat it again, was coming from us based on a demand of the Afghan people, very much. But as the country is moving more and more towards stability and security—and the warlord threat is only there when they fight each other, some of them. It is not a threat that would endanger the stability of Afghanistan or the government.

But nevertheless, people dislike a situation like that. People don't like it and people don't want fighting groups fighting each other. And that we are addressing as it occurs. And we have been able to resolve some of the occurrences in this regard.

They have also reduced in the number of activities and in the dimension of their activities. So again, I must say that we have not really talked, for quite some time, of the expansion of ISAF. It is now in the back of our minds, not in the forefront of our thinking right now, unless a new situation arises.

BIDEN:
Thank you.

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