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Conference Call with Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) - Update on Trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan

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Conference Call with Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) - Update on Trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan

CONFERENCE CALL WITH REP. JOHN TIERNEY (D-MA)
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON TRIP TO AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN
PARTICIPANTS: REP. GEORGE MILLER (D-CA); REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD); REP. RON KIND (D-WI); REP. PETER WELCH (D-VT)

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REP. TIERNEY: I'm John Tierney from Massachusetts, and we're just going to share a little bit of what we've done on this oversight trip.

The trip was with the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, from the whole Committee on Government Oversight. We managed to visit Kuwait and Qatar and Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is my third trip, and others in the party have also had at least one, or sometimes multiple trips.

It encompassed a follow-up on several reports that the committee has had done for it by the Government Accountability Office or other reports that have come to our attention from various sources. We also are very aware that the new administration is in the process of a strategy review in this area, and we had an opportunity to explore a lot of broader issues, including the status and the potential direction of conflicts that are in progress, and the need for, in fact, an anticipated new strategy going forward.

With me were George Miller from California, Ron Kind from Wisconsin, Chris Van Hollen from Maryland, Chris Murphy from Connecticut and Peter Welch from Vermont.

Each of them had specific concerns that emanate from their particular committee assignments and also from some personal interests that they no doubt had.

I want to share with you just some of the topics that we were doing oversight on. One was the Government Accountability Office report that we commissioned last year about the absence of a comprehensive strategy of the then-Bush administration. We were concerned, and the GAO reported back that in fact there was a lack of a comprehensive strategy with respect to all aspects of power -- the military, diplomatic, economic and intelligence and others. And we discussed with many of the stakeholders during this trip their perspective on what a strategy ought to be and what their interests were.

We talked about regional considerations in South Asia, particularly, obviously, the impact that any action in one particular country might have on others. And that included impacts on India, Iran and other surrounding countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as people's attitudes and opinions about those regional considerations.

Specifically, on a more targeted area, we had commissioned the Government Accountability Office report on weapons trafficking to the Afghan National Police and to the Afghan security forces. That report is in progress. We were able to visit the relevant military people there and look at the progress on a new protocol to make sure that weapons are not lost in transit, that they are accounted for from the time that they leave their purchase area to the time that they get dispersed.

We also were investigating reports on targeting issues, both aerial bombing and on raids on the ground, collateral damage issues. We wanted to look at the new protocols and procedures and actions that have been taken from the various reports I'm sure you're all aware of, that raised great concerns not just for General Karzai but generally.

We looked at issues surrounding the expansion and enhancement of the police and army in training and mentoring in Afghanistan. We wanted to look at the expedition and -- the expansion of the growth of the size of these units in Afghanistan, but we needed also to look at the need for a comprehensive rule of law review in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan and the importance of that aspect of any plan moving forward.

We followed up on a Government Accountability Office report that -- and our own report from the committee last year on coalition support funds to determine whether or not these are in fact the best way to have aid go out on military matters to Pakistan or whether they ought to be reformed or substituted by something else.

And we also are looking to possible assistance in other ways, to either or both countries, whether it's economic development in the form of education or infrastructure.

Particularly we have with us Chris Van Hollen, who's the author of the ROZ bill. He can explain what the attitudes were, for people out there, and whether or not that ought to move forward in Congress, as it was proposed last year, as it may have been changed.

We talked with a whole host of people; Ambassador Jones in Kuwait. We talked with Ambassador Wood obviously in Kabul. But we also met with President Karzai, President Zardari, General David McKiernan, who's now the head of both NATO and U.S. forces, the commander there, Major General Michael Tucker and Major General Formica on some of the other related issues.

We met with the Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, Jayant Prasad. We met with Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani, people from the International Group, people from the Lawyers Movement and a lot of people at NGOs, to try and get a broad perspective on that.

What I'm going to do is now turn it over for some of the members to give a statement on that. And I'll start with our colleague from California, George Miller.

REP. MILLER: Thank you, Chairman Tierney.

I'm Congressman George Miller from California. I'm co-chair of the Democratic Policy Committee. The trip that was led by Chairman Tierney, I think, allowed us to speak, as he pointed out, with a very broad cross-section of individuals, in the region, to try to address some fundamental questions about, what is our goal in Afghanistan and in the region? And how best can that be achieved?

And what is the impact of various alternatives that we may have, on the viability of the region, in the long-term effort to try and eradicate al Qaeda from that region and also make sure that Afghanistan or even Pakistan does not become a host area/nation for al Qaeda?

And I think it also becomes clear that as we go forward, in trying to determine those goals, we have to recognize that the current efforts that we have under way are inadequate and their under- resourced.

The police force is too small and too corrupt. The army continues to need additional training, although it's coming up to size. But whether you measure this by your ability to deny the Taliban again taking over the country or the presence of al Qaeda or to grow the economy, so that Afghanistan can have an alternative to the Taliban, all of these efforts need to be improved and increased.

And the other one is that now there's been a suggestion that there will be an additional 30,00 troops -- American troops introduced into the region sometime later this year. I think very serious questions are raised about what would the impact of those troops be both inside of Afghanistan and outside of Afghanistan, in terms of the possible displacement of populations within Afghanistan.

Finally, I would just say that I think, again, the trip just gave us an incredible access to the most important people and -- in helping us to determine this policy going forward. But I also think that before we make that decision, the administration, the Congress and others are going to have to have a pretty serious conversation with the American people about how we do go forward in this effort.

Thank you.

REP. TIERNEY: Thank you, George. And next will be Chris Van Hollen from Maryland.

REP. VAN HOLLEN: Well, thank you. Let me start by thanking Chairman Tierney. I thought it was a very productive trip and packed with lots of events.

As President Obama said during his inaugural address, when he sort of challenged the world to think about what was at stake, he said for those who might be listening to the call of al Qaeda, ask yourselves not what people have destroyed, but what they've built. In other words, al Qaeda has nothing to show but destruction and violence. And what we hope to do is provide opportunities for people around the world to live freely and enjoy the fruits of their success.

And any comprehensive strategy in this region both in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan has to involve an economic development component to give people an opportunity to have a productive livelihood.

And that is why, as Mr. Tierney mentioned, I've been advocating a piece of legislation called the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which would allow businesses operating in zones designated by the president of the United States in each of these countries to have duty-free access to U.S. markets for whatever products they have produced in these zones.

This legislation has been in the works for about a year now. We'd hoped to get it passed during the last administration. I believe it's fair to say that the new Obama administration is favorably disposed to moving forward with some version of this legislation. And it was clearly supported by those in the region. President Zardari said this was among his top economic development priorities, one of his top priorities for the region, as did those we spoke to in Afghanistan.

So I look forward to pursuing this with my colleagues, as we also look at our military strategy, to always remember that it's important to have a comprehensive strategy that also includes this economic development component.

Thank you.

REP. TIERNEY: Thank you, Chris.

Next is Ron Kind from Wisconsin.

REP. KIND: Thanks. This is Ron Kind from Wisconsin. And again, I thank Chairman Tierney for putting this delegation together to go and do some fact-finding in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a very worthwhile trip, and I think it will be very helpful for us in the tough decisions that we have to make.

All of us when we were in Afghanistan had an opportunity to get together with troops from our respective states, in order to hear from them directly and what they're seeing on the ground. And I know the ones I spoke to from Wisconsin, their morale is good, they're well trained, they're well motivated. They're the best that we have to offer. And I know we're all very, very proud of the job that our men and women in uniform are doing for us in a very tough, difficult and dangerous situation.

They are dealing with a situation on the ground that has been largely in the back seat to Iraq for the last seven years -- back seat in both focus and resources. Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries today whose governments are not in control of their own countryside. They probably have some regions that are ungovernable, and they certainly have militants who are not reconcilable.

So the question I think for us in the United States will be whether we allow these two countries to fail, or whether we choose to work with a lot of good people who we had a chance to meet over the last couple of days who are working hard to try to give their people a more secure and a better future than what they're facing today.

We're going to be working closely with the Obama administration, to help them develop what we think is a comprehensive strategy that's long overdue for these two countries, that is not only bilateral in scope, in dealing with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also regional, as well as a greater international involvement.

This is going to be tough, and it's not going to turn around overnight. But do we really want to risk having these states fail and therefore providing sanctuaries or safe havens for terrorist operations to plan and launch another potential strike against us or anyone else (to ?) the globe?

Thank you.

REP. TIERNEY: Thank you, Ron. We appreciate that.

Next with us, from Vermont, is Peter Welch.

REP. WELCH: Thank you, Chairman Tierney and my colleagues. I wasn't -- two impressions, really. One is, when you're in Afghanistan and you're talking to the leaders and you're talking to our soldiers, and then you're in Pakistan and you're talking to our embassy personnel and you're talking with their political leaders and you're seeing the terrain, you cannot help but have a much fuller appreciation of how incredibly difficult it is to execute any strategy. The practical challenges, from logistics, to corruption in government that long preceded American involvement, to the lack of institutional support to deliver services means that whatever the United States undertakes, it's going to be immensely challenging.

And it makes it very timely that the Obama administration is doing a comprehensive review. The military commanders we spoke to were pretty clear-eyed about what the limits were that they could do, because they had a whole appreciation, day in and day out, about what this involves, in trying to implement any strategy. As is always the case with the military folks, they'll do what it is we ask them to do. But this is a moment in time when we have to be very careful about what it is we ask them to do.

The goal that is clear is to prevent al Qaeda from having an operational base from which it can launch another attack against the United States. And that's, of course, what distinguishes the -- our involvement in Afghanistan from our involvement in Iraq. But the big question will be how best to implement a strategy that has as its goal protecting American national security, protecting Americans from another attack.

The second thing that was so very impressive to me was how people are so hopeful; that America has a new president who has an open mind who they believe is genuinely concerned about their well-being.

And that good will is not just a sentiment; it's something that I think induces a higher level of cooperation than in the past.

So it's quite striking to me how -- from Pakistan to Afghanistan, talking to the leaders in both those countries -- there was a renewed sense of optimism. They also did put in a little pitch here for -- (inaudible) -- bill. They want another way to focus on a positive direction -- not just the warfighting, but the development of their society. And they want jobs. And the notion of having these reconstruction opportunities had a very powerful symbolic -- (inaudible) -- as well as essential jobs benefits.

And it's about two societies, Pakistan and Afghanistan, that face very significant internal instability; have -- there's four wars going on over there at the moment; are looking for things that are constructive and positive and a better way to spend, you know, time and effort.

So thank you very much.

REP. TIERNEY: Well, thank you, Peter. I think that you can tell that basically the deeper you dig into this, the more complex you find that it is and the more difficult the considerations that you have on this. But we -- most of us have been tracking this for some time now. We went from the days when Musharraf was in it. We were trying to convince the Bush administration to really stand up for democracy, if that's what they were promoting, and to allow for free elections in Pakistan and then to try to deal with the duly elected government there.

We know that President Karzai has scheduled a date for elections in Afghanistan. The people of that country will be deciding who they want to move forward with and what it is they want in their future. We have a new government in the United States. We have a relatively new government in Pakistan. And it's going to be, I think, incumbent upon all of us to get as much information as we can. And this trip certainly helped in that regard.

Ron Kind mentioned the troops out there. I think each one of us wanted to take a second of our time to do that. And we were all impressed with the members of the armed services. And we were -- I think one of the highlights of the trip was getting to see the members of the service from our respective districts and be able to talk with them and find out how they're doing and what their view of things were. We happened to catch them just before they were going to stay up late that night or early morning and watch the Super Bowl on that, which -- I think we got dribs and drabs of the scores. And the Patriots didn't win on that. (Laughter.)

But basically, this is all coming down to what's the strategy going to be, what is the goal of the United States security with respect to this region, and how are we best going to achieve those goals. Does it require a continued military presence in Afghanistan? And if so, does it require an increase in those troops? And what will be their role? What would be the anticipated effect of their role on Afghanistan -- the situation and as well as on Pakistan and other surrounding countries?

There will be intended and unanticipated consequences in other countries for anything that happens in one nation.

We want to know what the United States -- people expect as we go forward. They have a right to think of it in context of how much time are we looking to get the desired results, what will that end result look like, how will we frame the completion of our mission. I don't think this can be termed in terms of win-loss. I think that's a tremendous mistake that we made in Iraq, allowing the discussion to get down to that. It really is what are our goals and when do we think that we'll accomplish them and what's the best way to get to that path.

We're looking at potential loss of treasure here, lives -- certainly the most precious things that we're concerned about -- as well as money, at a time when the economy is in difficult straits and we've been stretched out. Our military is incredibly stretched.

So we're convinced, as I think most of us were before we went in, that this definitely has to be a regional approach. We heard very loudly and clearly from people in these countries that they want to be consulted, they want to be consulted before action is taken that's going to affect their lives, and they'd like to have an effort made at some consensus moving forward. And that sounded very reasonable to all of us, and we're sure that the Obama administration is taking all of that into consideration.

The time for us or, I think, of this call is probably winding out a little bit. If you would like to speak to any one of the members that spoke here today, you can either contact their offices, or you can contact Betsy Arnold at my office, which is 202-226-5- -- 22- --

STAFF: Two-two-five-8020.

REP. TIERNEY: (Want to say it ?) right?

STAFF: Two-oh-two-225-8020.

REP. TIERNEY: That's the number that she'll be at, again.

(Cross talk.) The -- we can't I think we may have a minute or so, but it's -- or less than a minute, I guess, and we know that the line's open for questions. But we want to thank all of you for taking the time to check in. We've been up a little over 21 hours here, so we hope we were coherent. (Laughter.) And we know that you'll all make us coherent as a courtesy on that. (Laughter.)

We look forward to your calls, your follow-up calls, and thank you again for your interest in this. Good night.

END.


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