I recently joined four of my Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the Bush Administration asking for the creation of a bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group to review strategy and develop recommendations for bringing stability to the country. Our letter cited growing chaos and noted that failing to deal with military, political, diplomatic and economic problems in Afghanistan will continue to empower Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban insurgents.
The request to create an Afghanistan Study Group comes on the heels of a recent UN study indicating that opium production in Afghanistan has reached record levels despite ongoing U.S. counter-narcotics efforts. Afghanistan's opium is used to fuel terrorism and insurgency. For too long, the Bush Administration has treated Afghanistan like an afterthought while focusing almost exclusively on Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. As a result, Afghanistan remains plagued by violence, lawlessness, and rampant drug trafficking. It is my hope that the establishment of an Afghanistan Study Group will help turn the situation around.
You can find the text of our letter below.
Barbara Boxer, US Senator, California
United States Senator
Lt. General Douglas E. Lute
Assistant to the President and
Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear General Lute:
We write to express our serious concern about the dire situation in Afghanistan. Given the importance of succeeding and the complexity of the challenges we face there, we recommend the creation of a bipartisan Afghanistan Study Group to provide a comprehensive assessment and offer recommendations on the way forward.
Bringing lasting stability to Afghanistan is vital to U.S. national security interests. The country served as a sanctuary for the terrorists that struck us on September 11, 2001, and the recently-released National Intelligence Estimate makes clear that an emboldened Al Qaeda has "regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As former NATO Supreme Commander Gen. James L. Jones put it, "If we don't succeed in Afghanistan, you're sending a very clear message to the terrorist organizations that the U.S., the U.N., and the 37 countries with troops on the ground can be defeated."
While some progress has been made, recent reports show that conditions remain grave and it is clear that we have reached a critical stage in the mission. The resurgent Taliban has taken advantage of a safe haven in Pakistan to launch more attacks in Afghanistan, contributing to a steady rise in the level of violence. As President Karzai stated on August 5, 2007, "The security situation in Afghanistan over the past two years has definitely deteriorated." Yet NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is still not at full strength, significant restrictions remain on many of its troops, and there is serious concern that some NATO countries may actually begin withdrawing troops. Further, poppy production, which provides significant funds for the insurgency, increased 49% in 2006 and is equivalent to nearly half of Afghanistan's GDP.
Addressing Afghanistan's myriad and interrelated military, political, diplomatic and economic problems poses a significant challenge. The issues that must be addressed include enhancing reconstruction efforts, implementing civil reforms essential to establishing the rule of law, training Afghan security forces more effectively, reducing corruption, coordinating dozens of international and non-governmental organizations, ensuring full integration of U.S. and ISAF military and intelligence operations, fostering greater cooperation with Pakistan and other countries in the region, guaranteeing that adequate resources and personnel are available, and creating a sustainable counter-narcotics strategy.
We believe that our prospects for success would be greatly enhanced by convening a bipartisan group of senior officials with relevant experience, along the lines of the Baker-Hamilton Commission for Iraq, to conduct an objective and comprehensive assessment of our overall strategy and make recommendations for the future. In fact, the Defense Committee of the British House of Commons has already completed a similar effort, and its report included several recommendations that warrant serious consideration.
We hope you will agree that the timely formation of this Afghanistan Study Group is an important step towards reinvigorating America's commitment to a stable, secure Afghanistan. We are also prepared to pursue any legislative efforts that will be helpful in moving this process forward.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this urgent request. We look forward to receiving a response at your earliest convenience.
John F. Kerry
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Christopher J. Dodd
Hillary Rodham Clinton