HEARING OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
SUBJECT: VOICE OF VETERANS OF THE AFGHAN WAR
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JOHN F. KERRY (D-MA)
WITNESSES: ANDREW BACEVICH, COLONEL, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED), PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND HISTORY, BOSTON UNIVERSITY; GENEVIEVE CHASE, STAFF SERGEANT, U.S. ARMY RESERVE, RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HEART, AMERICAN WOMEN VETERANS; CHRISTOPHER MCGUIRK, STAFF SERGEANT, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED), RECIPIENT OF COMBAT INFANTRYMAN'S BADGE, TWO BRONZE STARS AND THE PURPLE HEART; WESTLEY MOORE, CAPTAIN, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED); RICK REYES, CORPORAL, U.S. MARINES (RETIRED)
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SEN. KERRY: This hearing will come to order. (Sounds gavel.)
I'm delighted to welcome our witnesses and my colleagues to this important hearing.
Earlier this week, I was invited by a group of Harvard Business School about-to-be graduates and first-year students, but all of whom are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and I was struck by what a smart and accomplished, capable -- as we used to say, "squared away" -- group of young people I was talking to, with strong opinions, strong views about policies, about life, and they had earned it. And it underscored my personal belief about the degree to which military service instills strong leadership skills.
What also struck me was the fact that we are living the lessons learned over the past 40 years about how we regard veterans. We're all standing on common ground now. We're saying thank you to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who've served. We are not confusing a war with the warriors, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your service to our country and for those who are still serving.
Today we want to hear your views of the conflict in Afghanistan. We are, as you all know, just completing a review. We're going through a process of trying to fine-tune this policy, if it is fine- tunable, and that's something we need to examine. And we want to understand the challenges from the perspective of the men and women who have been fighting there, risking their lives and suffering the losses that come with war.
We want you to help us understand the definition of what is achievable and perhaps even help us to define the notion of success and victory. We want to honor your service and demonstrate our appreciation for the sacrifices that you and other families have made.
History proves that soldiers on the ground have an intimate knowledge that is vital to their commanders and to us as policymakers. Most recently, it was soldiers who sounded the early warnings that our mission in Iraq had some problems. It was soldiers in Anbar province who saw the major political opportunity to reconcile with the sheikhs, because they found that on their patrols and in their dealings and interactions on a firsthand basis.
Soldiers know the challenges up close and personal, and we're eager to hear and to learn from the insights of this generation of young warriors who have served with honor and professionalism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
I made a promise to myself long ago that I would not compare all conflicts to the Vietnam War, and that sort of analogy by history can be very unproductive. More importantly, it can divert us from developing the right policy for a current conflict. What we need to do, and the reason the witnesses are here today, is address the intricacies and nuances of Afghanistan from every angle.
That does not mean, however, that there aren't some parallels between wars. Once again, we are fighting an insurgency in a rural country with a weak central government. Our enemy blends in with the local population and easily crosses a long border to find sanctuary in a neighboring country. Our efforts to win the loyalty of the locals are hampered by civilian casualties and an inability to deliver the security that we promised more than seven years ago. We ignore those similarities at our peril.
There are also fundamental differences. We have a responsibility to the men and women fighting in Afghanistan to understand those differences and to adapt to them. First and foremost, North Vietnamese never posed a direct threat to our country. The extremists we are fighting today, however, in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan do represent and have, in fact, implemented a direct threat to the security of the United States. They planned the attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 Americans. They have killed hundreds of other innocents in terrorist attacks worldwide since then, and they are preparing new attacks on the United States and our interests even as we sit here today.
Our original goal in Afghanistan was to go after those individuals. We were determined to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and eliminate al Qaeda's base of operations so that they could never again attack the United States. Our attention strayed from that goal and our enemies took advantage of our mistakes.
Now the Obama administration is attempting to redefine and narrow the mission, embracing objectives closer to those original goals. We are bolstering the American forces in Afghanistan to protect the citizens and to train the Afghan police and army. We recognize that no solution is possible without a strong alliance with Pakistan.
In some ways, Pakistan represents an even greater threat today, so we will increase aid to Pakistan and support its democratic government, but obviously we've seen in the last days the challenges to that government are growing, and in the end, the fight there is not ours to determine the outcome; it is theirs. The Pakistanis have to determine how deeply they are committed to their own government and their own country.
We are no longer offering either country a blank check. We will set strict standards for measuring progress against al Qaeda and the Taliban, and we will do our best to see that they are met.
So let me be clear: There is much still to be done in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but our new focus creates a sense of determined optimism for us and for our coalition allies, though -- and that is part of the purpose today -- that strategy has to be put to the test, and we look forward to your evaluations.
Better-defined objectives should lead to a better battle plan for our troops, but this remains an immensely complicated task, one that leaves our troops simultaneously on the front lines of the struggle against extremists and in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Sitting on a mountain ledge in a helicopter during a snowstorm in Afghanistan last year with then-Senator Biden and Senator Hagel drove that home to all three of us.
We are asking our young men and women to be warriors at one moment but then mayors, dispute conflict resolution experts, anthropologists and builders, and then warriors again. You and your colleagues have carried out these difficult and contradictory tasks with remarkable confidence and courage, and our job this morning is to listen and learn from your perspective.
SEN. RICHARD G. LUGAR (R-IN): I join you, Mr. Chairman, in welcoming this distinguished panel of members of the armed services who have served our country in combat.
As President Obama launches a new initiative in Afghanistan and the Congress prepares to consider his request for funding operations in the region, it's important that we hear from many different perspectives about the way forward. I've benefited enormously from taking to many Hoosiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, both in the regular military and as members of the National Guard and Reserves.
Since September 11, 2001, 13,000 Hoosier National Guard personnel have been deployed in defense of our country, and currently more than 100 guardsmen from Indiana are mobilized in Afghanistan alone. Some 20 Hoosiers have lost their lives in that conflict.
President Obama has elevated the priority of the Afghanistan mission, and the September 11 attacks were planned in Afghanistan, al Qaeda still operates there, and the fate of the country remains both strategic and symbolic.
As the Obama administration devotes more resources and troops to Afghanistan, however, many details need to be fleshed out. Eyewitness accounts of battlefield conditions may be very valuable in evaluating the administration's plans. Equally important are insights about the views and capabilities of the Afghan people who ultimately will have to rebuild their country and provide for political stability.
I think that Americans across the political spectrum are agreed that the situation in Afghanistan cannot be solved by military means alone. Multiple reviews of our policy have concluded that up to 80 percent of the activities necessary in post-conflict and counterinsurgency situations are civilian tasks. Success in Afghanistan may depend on the attitudes of the people, the progress of reconstruction, and the development of the economy as much as it depends on battlefield victories. In the end, sustainable peace and progress is dependent upon Afghan determination to achieve for themselves a cohesive society.
I look forward to hearing the testimony of our honored witnesses, and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you so much, Senator Lugar.
Let us turn now to our witnesses, and again, let me say how much we appreciate your willingness to come here and share your experiences and your insights. Some of you have come a long way.
In the case of Rick Reyes, you've come all the way from Los Angeles, and we appreciate that.
The first person to testify will be Genevieve Chase, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve, who spent three years on active duty and received a Purple Heart in Afghanistan.
Following Ms. Chase will be Rick Reyes, a former corporal in the Marine Corps who was one of the first American soldiers into Afghanistan in October 2001, and he also served in Iraq.
Mr. Reyes will be followed by Chris McGuirk, whose 10 years of service in the Army included tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and earned him two Bronze Stars and the Combat Infantryman Medal.
And Wes Moore, as a former paratrooper and Army captain who served as an information and Special Operations officer with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan, and he will round out the veterans of Afghanistan who will testify.
Then finally, we will hear from one of my constituents, a distinguished student of conflict and war and of the region and a professor. He is Andrew Bacevich. Andrew is a professor at Boston University. He is a prolific writer on war and issues of foreign policy. He is also a veteran of Vietnam himself, and I should add that his son, Andrew, gave his life for our country in service in Iraq in 2007.
So we are deeply grateful for all of you being here today. Thank you.
SGT. CHASE: Senator Kerry, Ranking Member Lugar, and members of the committee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share with you my testimony.
My name is Genevieve Chase, and I served with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2006 as a Pashto language-trained soldier. During my 40 weeks of cultural and language training, our teacher made it very clear to us what his hopes and goals were for his students, namely that we would utilize our knowledge and skills for the good of the Afghan people.
Afghans remember their history well and have not forgotten that we left their country without any foundation following the defeat of the Soviet army. The Afghans fully believe we, the Americans, will do it again. It is not too difficult to ascertain why, despite our intentions and efforts, fiercely nationalistic Afghans continue to believe that we are an occupying force. We went boldly into their country, planned and carried out our operations, and then retreated to the safety of our fortified and guarded compounds before sundown.
Along with our coalition partners, we threw billions of dollars at civil affairs and reconstruction projects that we thought would win the hearts and minds of the Afghans, while we empowered a local government in which many local Afghans believed contained nepotistic and corrupt officials. With the help of these same embezzling officials, we supported and continue to support the eradication of their rival tribes' poppies, while failing to provide alternative crops to the poorest of farmers.
We've forced the farmers and drug lords to align with the Taliban and al Qaeda in order to protect their livelihoods while we surged in and out of volatile areas. We have continued in making promises, asking those that would assist us to the fate of death by the hands of the enemy for the very act of agreeing to work with us.
The rest of the Afghan village elders and leaders have three choices: one, voice and defend the interests of their constituents but face beheading or worse; two, flee their homes and country in order to live and protect their families; or three, play to the interests of whomever is in their town at the moment, hoping to play both sides and not be killed by either.
I will never forget speaking to a respected village elder, one of the few we trusted in the remote area of Helmand Province, who felt that there was nothing more he could do to save his people but make the dangerous trip from the mountains under the fear of Taliban reprisal to appeal to the Americans and ask for assistance in pushing the Taliban out from his village. However, he left our provincial reconstruction team defeated and without hope.
How do we create the stability that will allow for legitimate elders and leaders to govern without fear? The answer to this question lies in yet another: What have we done wrong and what lessons have we learned from our mistakes? Just as Lieutenant Backsight Forethought in the classic military text "The Defense of Duffer's Drift" had seven dreams in which he was able to analyze each tactical battle, we have had eight years in which to do the same. Unfortunately, due to the strains on our forces, we not only rotate out divisions and brigades, but we piece mail units that have not trained together and have little to no operational experience in the Afghan theater.
Most significantly, in a culture where a man's trust and respect is earned with time, loyalty and devotion to the cause, we rotate out units every six to 12 months. We then ask our Afghan counterparts to give the same hard-earned trust we earned, nurtured over time, to perfect strangers. With each rotation, just as Lieutenant Forethought did with his reoccurring dreams, we have had to start from the beginning to build and cultivate those working relationships again.
The question is not whether an influx of troops will be effective or seen as an occupation, but how do we effectively utilize those additional troops? The way in which we do so will cultivate how the Afghans perceive our intention.
The concept of the provincial reconstruction teams is altruistic, but their application has been hindered by a number of issues, all secondary to the lack of security. Why build schools, provincial centers, bridges and wells when there is no support or security provided for the villagers to utilize them?
My first recommendation is that we push our troops out to an even more local level. Rather than provincial reconstruction teams, we establish district security and reconstruction teams within and among the villages working in conjunction with village elders. These DSRTs would provide a safe-haven for the people rather than the enemy. And in turn, Afghans would maximize the information operations campaign through the development of progressive and prosperous communities.
In order to do this we start as we did in 2001: supporting the Afghans with centralized strategic victories, and from there, spread out while maintaining our ground and assisting the Afghans in providing their own security -- living and serving among them.
Secondly, we allow individual troops to extend their tours, if requested, so that we may apply expertise and continuity to rotating troops. At the very least we rotate out cohesive divisions and brigades within not only the same theater but the same area of operations.
Furthermore, we cultivate our own organic assets to include our linguists, analysts and soldiers with Afghanistan asymmetric and/or counterinsurgency experience and engage them as focused and concentrated force armed not just with weapons and ammunition but the power of knowledge, experience and wisdom.
Third, we support the Afghans in rooting out corruption and establishing secure and stable environments for which they can regain the pride they have for their country rather than supporting corrupt officials as they work their own agendas and line their own pockets.
We should encourage our coalition partners to purchase poppy yields, giving the money directly to the farmers rather than to corrupt district government officials, while providing alternative crops to grow and safe markets in which to facilitate commerce.
These thoughts are just the beginning of what must be a multifaceted and enduring effort on the behalf of all involved. As I've stated previously, Afghanistan's diversity and culture and geography demand that we embrace the comprehensive and infinite understanding of the nation's issues. Broad and generalized tactics as we have applied in the past will not work in in every corner of Afghanistan. Cultivating our homegrown experts by allowing them to provide continuity and confluence of operations through their learned knowledge and, moreover, in-depth network of interpersonal relations are tantamount to mutual respect and eventual success.
Just as the enemy has adapted to our tactics, we must get away from the big-army mentality and do the same. In time and within an environment in which schools will not be burned, bridges blown up, the Afghans will have safe access to employment and education. When this happens we will begin to see the possibilities of a country free from radical and rampant extremism, where adults will be able to provide for their children and their children will be free to attend schools. One day, this generation of children in Afghanistan will be better prepared to take the reins of their country from their parents and will grow with the memory of war rather than the daily reality of it.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify here before the committee today and look forward to your questions.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you so much for the thoughtful testimony.
Next is Rick.
MR. REYES: First off, I want to thank Senator Kerry for giving me the inspiration of being here today. I sit here 38 years after you were expressing your opinions on the Vietnam War, and similarly want to express my opinions about this occupation.
I also want to thank the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for having me here.
I also want to say that I love my country, and that is why I'm here today.
My name is Rick Reyes. I am a veteran of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. I served with the United States Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman.
We took an oath to defend this country, and that doesn't stop when we check in our rifles into the armory. We keep our country safe by telling people the truth, and dong that is just as scary as any ambush or mortar attack.
I come from very humble beginnings. I am a son to both an immigrant father and mother from Mexico. I grew up in East Los Angeles in one of the roughest parts of town, known as Boyle Heights. Later my family moved to Southeast Los Angeles to escape the violence, but that wasn't far enough. As a kid I always envisioned myself of one day fighting for my country and ensuring justice.
Like most of my peers, when I was younger I got involved with the wrong crowd. After escaping a serious tragedy in my life, I knew the Marine Corps could provide me the opportunity to not only serve my country but to also straighten out my life by doing something honorable.
On the night of the September 11 attacks my battalion sat in port in Australia. It was some time around midnight and we were enjoying our off-time at the local bars when all of a sudden the music stopped and over the PR system an announcement heard that the U.S. was being under attack. We were all ordered to head back and aboard (sic) the ships. That night we were told we were going to war with the Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
The next morning we pulled out of port, and for the next month, while the administration formulated a plan, we prepared to go to war with the conviction of fighting for justice and the American way.
Our mission was to locate and capture suspected members of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Through my experience as an infantry rifleman, implemented past and current policy have found it almost impossible to locate and capture the Taliban, because there isn't any effective way to separate them from the innocent civilian population. Patrols were conducted through populated neighborhoods.
The populations on those neighborhood streets weren't any different from the population on my street. There were kids running around and playing while we occupied their streets -- mothers running behind after those kids making sure they stay out of trouble and out of our way and fathers trying to make a living for the little that they have.
U.S.-hired translators would tell us where suspected Taliban or al Qaeda would be found. We would follow their lead, often planning attacks and breaking into people's homes. Due to our training and fighting wars and killing enemy, we wouldn't enter these homes or situations quietly but instead trained to fight with the vigilance of encountering death at every turn.
Although we were on the hunt for suspected Taliban forces, at the end -- at the end of it we found that these dangerous missions resulted with very poor consequences by destroying innocent lives. We weren't fulfilling our objective of capturing terrorists but instead creating enemies out of civilians.
As a Marine trying to ensure justice, I began losing sight of why I was there and the conviction began to fade. Because our mission was to capture suspected Taliban and had no successful way of being able to distinguish them, we had no other choice but to suspect the entire civilian population, innocent or not.
One day we stopped at gunpoint, beating and nearly killing an innocent man only to find out he was just traveling down the road to deliver milk to his children. Because of that, that day those kids went without a father. There were hundreds of incidents like this one.
Almost 100 percent of the time we would find that suspected terrorists turned out to be innocent civilians. I began to feel we were chasing ghosts, fighting an enemy that we could not see or that didn't allow itself to be seen. How can you tell the difference between the Taliban and Afghan civilians? The answer is that you can't. It all stopped making sense.
Later I found out that these translators were being compensated on the amount of intelligence they were able to provide. So it was their incentive to be able to provide as much intelligence as possible without any way to know if the information being provided was false. It was such a flawed system, but who was I to question authority?
When I returned home I felt that occupying Afghanistan and Iraq was a mistake. I strongly feel that the military occupation and intervention is not the answer. If it didn't work back in 2001 when we had all the energy, all our resources, but most important, a very high troop morale, I ask myself, how could it work now?
A lot of these men and women serving our country and the armed forces have been desperately worn and stretched out too thin by having them in up to four tours overseas. If we aren't killing them on the ground due to a flawed policy, we are definitely killing them in spirit, and that also has a very serious indirect consequence when the fight is brought back home.
I love my country. Never once while serving did I feel I was protecting America, but instead we were harboring the worst of sentiments in these foreign Middle Eastern countries. We were creating more enemies.
As a kid I envisioned myself serving my country and fighting for freedom. But when the opportunity presented itself it was stripped from me, and instead I was forced to become a tyrant.
As I have experienced, our troops are also experiencing a very low morale, which oftentimes translates into high suicide rates.
These are just a few of the issues. There is just a huge array of reasons why at the minimum this occupation needs to be rethought.
We should not be sending any more troops into Afghanistan.
As a combat troop, we are trained to isolate and destroy the enemy, cut off its resources. As an indirect consequence, we impose our Western views and alienate their culture and traditions. And in some respects this entire occupation has become counterproductive.
As a Marine, I was willing to give my life for my country, and still am. But invading and occupying Afghanistan, sending more troops to solve what is a political problem, is not the answer.
I urge these senators to rethink Afghanistan while there is still time. I can almost guarantee that sending more troops will mean more civilian and U.S. troop casualties, not for war but for occupation. Sending more troops will not make the U.S. safer. It will only build more opposition against us.
I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer.
Thank you. (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Reyes. Appreciate -- please, everybody.
MR. MCGURK: I want to thank Chairman Kerry, Senator Lugar and members of the committee for inviting me here today and testifying on behalf of my fellow veterans. I'm both honored and humbled.
I'd like to say first and foremost that I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the United States should renew its commitment to Afghanistan and its people. I believed in this mission in 2004, and I firmly believe in it as I sit here today.
Some pundits will argue that we may no longer be able to achieve any real measure of success in Afghanistan. I say to those critics that we must try and help stabilize a country that has been, for the most part, ignored ever since combat operations began in Iraq in 2003.
Our continued inattention to Afghanistan, our drifting foreign policy in the region and the fact that we have done little to stop the re-emergence of the Taliban may very well solidify the resentment that the Afghan people have for the United States and the central government of Afghanistan. We have once chance to get this right or face those -- a real possibility of more terrorist attacks that rival those of 9/11 on U.S. soil.
I realize that many of the goals that we set forth for ourselves at the onset of the war may no longer be fully achievable, but we must try to stabilize and secure Afghanistan before it slips further into violence.
My experience in these matters does not come from writing foreign policy, rather the firsthand experience I gained while leading men in combat in two different countries and the interactions I had on a daily basis with those people of those countries.
I'd like to illustrate through a personal experience the two main reasons I believe that we should continue our mission in Afghanistan. These reasons are very different, but they serve to capture the complexity of issues taking place on the ground.
The first reason was an interaction that took place while my platoon was conducting security operations for a provincial reconstruction team. The PRT operated out of a firebase in Gardez in Paktia province and helped to build several schools in the area.
They were encouraging many of the local villagers to attend the opening ceremonies of all the different schools. On one particular mission my squad was in charge of manning a checkpoint on the main road leading up to one school. The morning went by without incident and we were in the process of getting ready to return to the firebase when a village elder came up to me with a serious expression on his face. I prepared myself for potentially antagonistic conversation but was surprised when he began speaking softly in English.
The conversation I had with him was short but was one that I will never forget. The man was a commander in the Mujaheddin and was wounded several times fighting the Russians. He lost both of his brothers to Soviet helicopter gunship raids and walked with a severe limp. He told me that he was worried at first when the Americans came to Afghanistan but soon realized that we were here to help the Afghan people, not exploit them. And he expressed to me that we would not abandon Afghanistan again. He shook my hand and touched his heart out of respect and was turning to leave when he stopped, gave me the thumbs up and said America was good and just. He then turned and slowly walked away.
I found myself at a loss for words as I stared at him. Here was a man hardened by fighting the Soviet army, who seemed to have lost everything in life, and yet had the faith -- excuse me -- had faith in a country and a people he did not know. He believed in the mission of the United States and the hope it gave to the Afghan people.
This experience also served to compound the anger I felt when the mission in Afghanistan was neglected in favor of the mission in Iraq. Schools like the one built by the PRT stood empty and idle through what seemed to be a lack of funding for teachers, books and other supplies. I felt as though the true objective of the mission was forgotten and that the half-completed school was one giant photo opportunity. The commitment to the men like the village elder was forgotten, the promise only half-fulfilled.
The second and most personal reason took place on September 29th, 2003 while my company was stationed at a firebase in Shkin in Paktika province, right on the Pakistani border. One mission my platoon had been -- one afternoon my platoon had been sent on a mission to reinforce another platoon currently under enemy small arms and mortar fire.
Upon reaching the platoon in contact, my squad dismounted to locate and destroy the enemy mortar tube. As my squad swept through the area, my lead team triggered a violent ambush that turned into a sustained firefight of more than 10 hours in duration.
During the firefight a 19-year-old PFC, Evan O'Neill of Haverhill, Massachusetts was mortally wounded by an enemy sniper while protecting the squad's exposed flank. As a trained EMT, I moved to assist the medic while continuing to direct the fire of my squad.
Upon reaching the PFC O'Neill he said to me, "Sergeant, is the squad okay?" I told him that the squad was hanging in there and I told him not to worry, that I was going to get him out of there. He then said to me, "I am sorry for letting you down." I told him that he didn't and to hold on. The last words O'Neill ever spoke were, "I'm sorry for letting you down."
He was only 19 years old, yet he understood the mission was larger than himself. His last words were entirely selfless.
I held Evan's hand and said the Our Father as he died.
As I think back to that day, I understand the memory and courage of a man like PFC O'Neill must be honored with the clear and coherent strategy to help the people of Afghanistan. We must defend the original mission, the one that was abandoned in favor of a misled strategy in Iraq to protect the American people from terrorist threats, and to ensure that O'Neill and others like him did not die in vain.
I strongly believe in the mission in Afghanistan combined with our efforts in Pakistan was and is the true front on the war on terror, something I did not believe while fighting in Iraq.
Senator Kerry, to this very committee in 1971, you spoke of men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped. My own anger and sense of betrayal comes from the possibility that we may not come to a resolution in Afghanistan and that the blood that has been shed by the victims of 9/11, the Afghan people and men like PFC O'Neill would be forgotten.
Once again, I'd like to thank you for inviting me here to testify. And I truly am happy to see that troops are finally being listened to.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you so much. Appreciate your testimony very, very much.
MR. MOORE: Thank you very much. And I'd like to thank the entire committee for this time.
And Mr. Chairman, I'd like to specifically thank you for acknowledging the importance of hearing from junior officers and NCOs. I believe I speak for everyone on the panel and the soldiers with whom served when I say that we appreciate the audience.
In early 2005 I was working as a banker in London, and less than a year later I was deployed with the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan. My good friend and a hero of mine, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Fenzel, deputy brigade commander of a unit that I later joined, asked me if I'd be willing to leave the world of finance and to serve. A sense of duty to my oath as an officer, a sense of commitment to the troops I would lead and a sense of loyalty to my friend who asked me to join him propelled me to leave my comfortable existence and spend nine months in the border region of Afghanistan.
Now, before deploying, I read extensively about the history of the region and sought counsel from those who I thought had any insight on the area. And within days of arriving in our area of operations, I realized nothing could have prepared me for some of the most trying, exhilarating and heartbreaking days of my life.
Iraq dominated the news cycle at the time. However, what I immediately learned was that the fight in Afghanistan was just as crucial and precarious, if not more than Iraq. The terrain, the economic and educational conditions, its neighbors -- two of which are nuclear-armed -- the tribalism and "Pashtunwali" law that reigned supreme over any inclination of nationalism, the lack of basic services such as electricity and clean water resources and a plethora of other realities make this more complex than I could have ever imagined.
But my time in Afghanistan also made this war very real to me, and made getting it right very personal.
The fighting was tough and the kinetic operations are all- encompassing. But the main reason I was asked to serve as the director of information operations was to address the American Strategic Support Plan for Program-Tuakli-el-Sul, which is the Afghan reconciliation program, which is also known as PTS.
The Afghans, followed by the lessons of South Africa and Chile before them, aim to create a reconciliation program that allowed Afghans who were involved with al Qaeda, HIG, the Haqqani network and the Taliban to turn in their weapons, pledge allegiance to the new Afghan government and return home to their families without fear of retribution or imprisonment.
When my team arrived, eight people had PTS'd, or reconciled. Lieutenant Colonel Fenzel and the other senior leaders of my unit got it. They understood the basic premise that the more insurgents that we can convince to peacefully reconcile meant the fewer that we needed to make submit via force.
We re-evaluated our strategies and techniques to support the Afghans in this initiative. We created a program called the Afghan public relations officers, or APROs, who were Afghans who worked with us to better tailor our messages and our reaction to the day's events.
We stopped using broadcasts written by U.S. soldiers and simply read by translators, and altered not only the messages but the messengers, and recruited respected leaders such as President -- Former President Mujadidi to better reach our targets.
We stopped using leaflet drops in order to spread the word, because with a population that has a literacy rate in the single digits, written materials were utterly ineffective.
We broadcasted PTS success stories so that people were on the fence knew that a safe alternative awaited them and that the option of waiting for our forces to find them was a losing proposition.
By the time we redeployed 533 people had PTS'd and rejoined Afghan society. And the initiative still runs to this day.
Now, I say that not just to pat our team on the back about the work that they did, because our effects were not perfect, and there were some significant flaws to that initiative, but to say that many important lessons were learned during that experience, and I'll highlight three.
The first: Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is a very rural fight and cannot be fought out of Kandahar or Kabul. The reason we were effective is because we spent time out in the field. Days at a time we were talking to locals, building trust and gaining insight. But we need more. And it needs to be with a distinct, local focus.
In Iraq the saying was, "As goes Baghdad, so goes the rest of the country." This is not the case in Afghanistan. And in many ways, it's the antithesis of the truth.
Number two: We are underfunded and undermanned in Afghanistan. We have fought this war on the cheap.
And I say that not only on the military side but particularly on the civilian support side and the reconstruction side.
But on the military angle specifically, we have asked two brigades to cover over a 1,600-mile area that is known as eastern Afghanistan, much of it the most dangerous terrain in the world.
Now, we just announced that we're adding another 17,000 troops, but even when those troops come online this summer, it is still a paltry number needed to fulfill the troop-to-task demands required for persistent engagement with people in the rural areas.
And number three: Many of the attacks we sustained were not conducted by ideologues; they were conducted by people who simply had no economic options and felt the pull of a monetary reward for supporting insurgents.
I personally dealt with insurgents who told me that they were not Taliban-for-cause but essentially Taliban-for-hire. This number is now smaller, and that dynamic is now changing, but we need to help provide jobs, education, security, and a viable future for the Afghans and their families in order to avoid the Taliban's campaign of ruthless intimidation and their significant information operations platform.
Right now, an American soldier is ending another long day patrolling the mountain ranges of the Kunar province. And under sweat-soaked Kevlar and burdened by the 40-pound rucksack he's been carrying for the past 12 hours, he looks over his shoulder and he sees a group of Afghan children playing in the distance. And at that very moment he is again reminded of what's at stake. And that same soldier is thinking about his own family and loved ones back at home, constantly being reminded of why he's there.
Let me be clear: I, like many of my fellow soldiers and citizens, want this war to end and we want this war to end badly. I've lost friends, I've lost colleagues, both Afghan and American. And I understand the burden that sits on your shoulders as decision makers, because it is similar to the burden that sat on mine as an officer who led troops in combat.
But the Taliban is executing a doctrine based on exhaustion, where their entire strategy depends on our political and national will faltering. Many of them are fond of saying, "The Americans have the wristwatches, but we have the time."
You have the wherewithal in this committee to make that an illusion by committing the resources, support and political will to ensure this war is brought to an effective close.
Thank you for your time and commitment to getting this right.
I welcome your questions.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Captain -- very important testimony.
Colonel Bacevich, you get to be the wrap-up.
MR. BACEVICH: Well, thank you for the privilege of presenting my views to this committee. And I'm particularly honored to do so alongside these veterans of the Afghanistan war.
Members of this generation have come to know war well, and I certainly would not presume to comment on their experience. My own generation had its own intimate relationship with a different war, one that has now become a distant memory.
As with many who served in Vietnam, my own views, even today, are perhaps too colored by that experience. Still, in gaining some perspective on the predicament we currently face, Vietnam may retain some lingering relevance.
In one of the most thoughtful Vietnam-era accounts written by a senior military officer, General Bruce Palmer, once observed that, quote, "With respect to Vietnam, our leaders should have known that the American people would not stand still for a protracted war of an indeterminate nature and with no foreseeable end to the U.S. commitment," end of quote.
General Palmer thereby distilled in a single sentence the central lesson of Vietnam. To embark upon an open-ended war lacking clearly defined and achievable objectives was to forfeit public support, thereby courting disaster. And his implication was clear: never again.
General Palmer's book, which he titled "The Twenty-Five-Year War," appeared in 1984. Today, exactly 25 years later, we once again find ourselves mired in a protracted war of an indeterminate nature with no foreseeable end to the U.S. commitment. How did this happen?
In the wake of Vietnam, the United States military set out quite consciously to develop a new way of war intended to preclude any recurrence of protracted, indeterminate conflict. Yet, events since 9/11, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, have now demolished such expectations. Once again, as in Vietnam, the enemy calls the tune obliging us to fight on his terms. Once again, decision has become elusive. And as fighting drags on, its purpose becomes increasingly difficult to discern.
American soldiers are now said to face the prospect of perpetual conflict. We find ourselves in the midst of what the Pentagon calls "the long war" -- a conflict global in scope, if largely concentrated in the greater Middle East, and expected to last even longer than General Palmer's 25-year war.
Yet, there's one notable difference today between today and the day 38 years ago when the chairman of this committee testified against the then seemingly endless Vietnam War. At that time, when the young John Kerry spoke, many of his contemporaries had angrily turned against their generation's war.
Today, most of the contemporaries of those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have simply tuned out the long war. The predominant mood of the country is not one of anger or anxiety but of dull acceptance. In other words, Americans today do appear willing to stand still, to use General Palmer's phrase, when considering the prospect of endless war.
Now, there are many explanations for why Americans are so disengaged from the long war, but the most important, in my view, is that few of us have any personal stake in that conflict.
When the citizen-soldier tradition collapsed under the weight of Vietnam, the post-Vietnam military rebuilt itself as a professional force. The creation of this all-volunteer military was widely hailed as a great success. Only now are we beginning to glimpse its shortcomings -- chief among them the fact that it exists at some remove from American society.
The upshot is that, with the eighth anniversary of the long war now approaching, fundamental questions about this enterprise continue to be ignored. My purpose today is to suggest that members of this committee have a profound duty to take these questions on.
In his testimony before this committee, the young John Kerry famously, or infamously, in the eyes of some, asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" What exactly was that mistake? Well, there were many. But the most fundamental lay in President Johnson's erroneous conviction that the Republic of Vietnam constituted a vital U.S. national security interest and that ensuring that country's survival required a direct U.S. military intervention.
Johnson erred in his estimation of South Vietnam's importance. And he compounded that error with a tragic failure of imagination, persuading himself that there existed no alternative to a massive U.S. troop commitment and that once in, there was no way out.
My own view is that today we are, in our own way, repeating LBJ's errors. Recall that in his testimony before this committee, speaking on behalf of other anti-war veterans, the young John Kerry remarked that, quote, "We are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism." The mystical war against communism finds its counterpart in the mystical war on terrorism -- as in the 1960s, so too, today.
Mystification breeds misunderstanding and misjudgment.
It prevents us from seeing things as they are. As a direct result, it leads us to exaggerate the importance of places like Afghanistan and, indeed, to exaggerate the jihadist threat, which falls well short of being existential. It induces flights of fancy, so that, for example, otherwise sensible people conjure up visions of providing clean water, functioning schools and good governance to Afghanistan's 40,000 villages, with expectations of thereby winning Afghan hearts and minds. It causes people to ignore the consideration of cost. With the long war already this nation's second most expensive conflict trailing only World War II and with the federal government projecting trillion-dollar deficits for years to come, how much can we afford? And where's the money coming from?
Now, for political reasons, the Obama administration may have banished the phrase "global war on terror," yet even today, the conviction exists that United States is called upon to dominate or liberate or transform the greater Middle East. Methods may be shifting, but the emphasis on pacification giving way to militarized nation-building. Priorities may be changing -- AfPak now supplanting Iraq as the main effort.
The urgent need is to demystify this project, which from the outset was a misguided one. Just as in the 1960s, we possess neither the wisdom nor the means needed to determine the fate of Southeast Asia. So today: We possess neither the wisdom nor the means necessary to determine the fate of the greater Middle East.
To persist in efforts to do so will simply replicate on an even greater scale mistakes and misjudgments comparable to those that young John Kerry once rightly decried.
Thank you. (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: Please, folks, we will have no demonstrations of any kind for, against, in the middle, either way.
But I appreciate -- thank you for the testimony -- very, very important statement, and I think wonderful mix of views here that really pose to the committee the heart of this dilemma. And I'm grateful to each and every one of you for the testimonies that you've given here today.
And our job now is to sort of probe and see if we can figure out the answers to some very provocative questions that have been posed in the testimonies that we've heard today.
I'm very grateful to you, Colonel Bacevich, for posing this sort of fundamental dilemma about resources and strategy, though I'm not sure if I'm grateful for the reminders that I'm now the older John Kerry.
But the -- there -- sort of cutting to the nub of this, I guess. You talked about the tragic failure of imagination. Each of you, I think, in your own way -- Sergeant McGurk, Captain Moore -- you've each talked about sort of the shift of resources to Iraq and the fact that we haven't had resources. And I'm very sympathetic to what I heard from you about -- I mean, I saw -- when I was up in Kunar province I saw the outstanding work of one of the PRTs and their extraordinary ability to forge very personal relationships with people in that particular village, where they clearly made a difference.
But as Colonel Bacevich is mentioning, there are 40,000 such villages and countless numbers of people. And the question, to some degree, is posed in your own, you know, statements about the support -- about the task, as you saw it, to try to have a more engaged kind of personal relationship.
And really, Mr. Reyes, it sort of plays off your sense of frustration at what you were trying to do, because you sort of articulated the frustration of going out there and not being able to discern who's Taliban, who isn't -- and being able to figure out, you know, how you out the pieces together. In other places where they had a different set of resources, or maybe a better definition of the mission, they were able to put those pieces together. But in the end, the question is, do all the pieces add up to putting it together in the way that Colonel Bacevich is asking?
So I think the review process that's gone on -- where General Petraeus and others have tried to sort of measure how do you recalibrate this? The question now that we have to ask is, is this calibration accurate? Is it sufficient? Is it going to be able to undo the negatives that you ran into, Mr. Reyes? Is it going to be able to reinforce the positives that you both talked about, and you talked about, Genevieve? But are they, in the end, going to be adequate to meet the challenge that Colonel Bacevich talks about, which is, you know the sufficiency overall of this larger strategy to actually work. And that's what we've got to figure out. I think that's a fair statement of the challenge.
My question is -- it seems to me that the administration is trying to narrow that mission, Colonel. And they're trying not to get into a place where they are talking about sort of an eternal rebuilding, but rather, defining the mission in its original terms, which was to get al Qaeda and prevent al Qaeda from using it as a base to be able to attack the United States.
Now, is that or is that not, in your judgment, Colonel, a sufficient recalibration of the strategy -- an achievable recalibration of the strategy, maybe I should say.
MR. BACEVICH: You know, my preliminary report card of the Obama administration would give the administration very high marks in the sense that some of the, bluntly speaking, ideological fantasies that seemed to inform thinking during the Bush era have now been set aside and the approach now seems much more grounded in reality and pragmatic. And, you know, one would have to applaud that.
And I think that that statement does apply to this administration's perspective of -- on Afghanistan, that to a degree the expectations and objectives are being ratcheted down. I would still say those objectives are not clearly defined.
But my complaint with regard to the administration is that, at least as best I can tell, I haven't heard a clear statement of how Afghanistan fits in this larger context of the long war. Now, the administration has abandoned, best I can tell, the phrase, "global war on terror," but what is the larger enterprise and how does Afghanistan relate to that larger enterprise?
And if you try to -- if you focus on the larger enterprise rather than a -- than strictly on Afghanistan, it seems to me you confront questions of purpose and duration and resource requirements that demand attention. Otherwise, the long war -- and I emphasize that phrase because it seems to me that it's very -- it is descriptive in the sense that the only thing we can say about this war is that it's going to go on for a long, long time.
It seems to me we just urgently need to ask ourselves whether or not the purposes of the long war are achievable, necessary and affordable. And Afghanistan is a subset of that larger set of questions.
SEN. KERRY: Well, I understand that. I agree with that. And the question then becomes, do you define the challenge today, not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan but in other places as a kind of global counterinsurgency effort that we have to wage -- not a global war on terror but a counterinsurgency? And as you know better than anybody, there's a distinction between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.
Is it fair to say that you could have a footprint that is calibrated to the task of protecting the United States from what we already know by 2001 September experience is the ability of this group of people to organize and plot against us some other attack from an open territory?
In other words, if we're not there in some way preventing them from the freedom to do that, isn't it pretty clear they're going to do that?
MR. BACEVICH: I think this is one of the areas where Vietnam -- the Vietnam comparison is relevant, because those who -- the architects of that war insisted that once we made the commitment of Americanizing the war that there really was no alternative except to follow through. That's the tragic failure of imagination.
And I would want to argue that we needn't -- we should not fall into that trap again. We should at least be willing to consider the possibility -- examine the possibility of alternatives to the long war. If the long war -- this effort to reduce the jihadist threat to the level in which it would be tolerable, if you will -- to do that by invading and occupying and transforming countries -- that's in essence what U.S. strategy has been since 9/11, focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Is there another fundamentally different approach? And I think there is. I mean, it seems to me there are the workings of an alternative approach -- an approach that does not require us to invade and occupy countries -- in the establishment of very robust defenses.
I mean, 9/11 happened not because al Qaeda was so smart. It happened primarily because we were so stupid and we allowed it to happen. So an alternative strategy begins with the creation of robust defenses. It includes an effort to deny to the jihadists the resources and primarily the financial resources that they need to plot against us. And we provide those resources in large part because of our dependence upon oil that comes from the Persian Gulf which funnels billions of dollars, some portion of which gets diverted to the jihadists.
What that says is, a serious alternative strategy makes an energy policy an urgent priority. An alternative strategy is one that says that -- views the terrorist threat not as the equivalent of Nazi Germany but a sense as an international criminal conspiracy -- a religiously motivated Mafia, and that the way you deal with that is through a sustained, well-resourced, multilateral police effort to identify and root out terrorist networks -- again, something that is accomplished not through invading and occupying countries.
Now, I'm not trying to sell you at this particular moment on every aspect of this alternative strategy. I'm simply trying to -- I am trying to sell you on the idea that perhaps it is possible to conceive of an alternative to the long war which will enable us to accomplish our national security objectives more effectively and more cheaply.
SEN. KERRY: What do you, as the troops who are on the ground trying to implement this strategy, feel about what you've just heard? But also, is there time, in your judgment, if the -- given the shift that you've heard about articulated in this now recalibration of our policy, do you believe that that is adequate to be able to allow you to do the things that you were talking about and make sufficient progress, or do you get trapped in the place that Colonel Bacevich is talking about?
Captain Moore, Sergeant and --
MR. MOORE: Thanks, sir. And actually, in listening to the comments, I actually wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be -- we need to holistically approach how we're going to look at this. We need to look at alternative energy resources. We need to look at economic resources and all the other factors that play into this -- that play into the conflict -- but we can't do it to the exclusion of providing security to Afghanistan and we can't do it to the exclusion of providing an opportunity for the NGOs and the State Department and USAID to be able to go in and do the work, because the challenge of them being able to do the work in Afghanistan has not -- in some cases has been the lack of resources that has been targeted towards them, but in many cases has been security. They haven't had the security measures in place that would allow them to actually further the advancement of development causes and development cures.
But going back to something that you mentioned earlier I think is a very important point --
SEN. KERRY: My question is, Captain, can we ever provide adequate security without the kind of commitment that digs you into the kind of hole that takes you beyond your resources, beyond your capacity? That's the balance.
MR. MOORE: Yes, sir. Well, it's not can we provide the adequate security. It's that can we put together the resources to help the Afghans provide adequate security, and the answer to that is yes.
SEN. KERRY: You believe we can?
MR. MOORE: Yes, sir.
SEN. KERRY: So you sense on the ground that with a adequate amount of focus now on the tribal, more local anti-corruption and other kinds of efforts, you have confidence in the ability to make progress in that?
MR. MOORE: Sir, when you look at the progress that the ANP and the ANA, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army, has made, even just over the process of the past three or four years, it's quite significant. They have more people on the rolls. They're more competent. They're more efficient. So I think, especially if we can tailor our, you know, not only development funds but then also our training, in terms of looking at a more local level -- better understanding of Pashtunwali and the Pashtun understanding of the eastern border of Afghanistan, then I think we absolutely can build those forces.
SEN. KERRY: Sergeant Chase?
SGT. CHASE: Sir, I just would like to backup what was said and also I do agree with something that the colonel has said, except for -- I'd like to just kind of take us back a minute to the Soviet invasion and when they left and the -- a point that was made to me several times by Afghans who were -- who lived during that time period, that we failed to provide anybody -- nobody provided them with infrastructure or with security or with a government.
They did, because of that, that's where the issues were with the al Qaeda and how they were able to get into Afghanistan and use it as a safe haven, because that country was so volatile and so desperate.
They did attack us on our soil and now that we've gone in and essentially for the most part have got -- worked to get rid of the Taliban in -- or, sorry. I'm so nervous.
SEN. KERRY: You're doing great.
SGT. CHASE: We focused so much of our efforts in getting rid of al Qaeda and getting rid of Osama bin Laden. As far as we know, he's not in Afghanistan at this time. However, we are now dealing with homegrown and very much internal developed Taliban, supported by al Qaeda in things like losing their livelihood and stuff that I've talked about.
However, if we leave without providing the security, propping up the government, propping up the local villages and people that are there and then giving them some sense of structure and some sense of safety and security and we won't be able to -- we'll be back. Somebody will be back. If we don't do this now, we'll be back.
And we are an all-volunteer military and we are sitting here before you and I have many friends who have said that they would go back. Afghanistan's a very different country. It's a very different fight. And to say that we have invaded Afghanistan is highly inaccurate. In fact, we haven't given them enough to help them.
Understanding their culture more in depth and working in terms with Pashtunwali as well as the culture of the Afghans, we would be better able to help them and assist them in taking care of themselves, as opposed to where an invasion is we go in, very much like the Russians did, and tell them how to live.
SEN. KERRY: I've exceeded my time. I think, Sergeant McGurk and Mr. Reyes, why don't you come in in answer to Senator Lugar, perhaps, so that we can get around the dais here and you can weave in -- answer that. Is that fair enough?
SEN. LUGAR: Why don't you just continue with --
SEN. KERRY: All right. You want to just -- Sergeant -- would each of you then sort of respond to that? And as you do, tell-- is it -- I mean, remember when we went in in 2001, in the aftermath of that we had 100 percent of the Afghan people behind us, supportive, ready to roll. And obviously that has now dropped.
I've seen some numbers that are perilously low at this point in time.
So part of the question is, do we have time to turn that around and the capacity at the same time? Sergeant McGurk and then Sergeant Reyes?
MR. MCGURK: Sir, I have to say we don't have any choice but to make the time. I think we made our bed and now we have to lie in it. We went into Afghanistan to try to defeat the Taliban, try to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging within Afghanistan and building more bases and then we just left. We left the Afghan people to themselves.
We half propped up a government and then left. We started building trust. We started building really good rapport with the local Afghan people and we just left. It's as plain as that, sir. I'm not a policy wonk. I'm not an expert when it comes to foreign policy. I can tell you the sense on the ground when I was there was they were happy we were there.
I also served in Iraq. And I could tell you I never got that sense once when I was in Iraq. I was in Baghdad, Ashwala (ph) and different areas on the western fringes of Baghdad. I was out even by Abu Ghraib prison. I never once saw the same support from the Iraqis that I saw from the Afghan people.
As I said in my testimony when that -- the village elder came up -- and here's a man who was fighting Russian army -- was basically thanking me. You know, I'm not the entire mission in Afghanistan at the time, but I was representative of the Army and they were happy that he was happy and I know many of the people we dealt with were extremely happy that we were there and they asked us not to leave.
I mean, it's no big secret that, you know, when the Russians were defeated Afghanistan we took our funding and left. And a lot of resentment were carried over till then. And there were some older generation of Afghans that were kind of a little wary of us. And I think that if we don't make the effort, we don't make the time, we're going to be facing more terrorist attacks.
To say that, you know, Afghanistan was an invaded country -- kind of what Genevieve said -- it wasn't an invaded country. And unlike Vietnam, the Vietnamese didn't attack us on U.S. soil. So to answer your question, sir, in a general term, is we have to make the time to it at least try and stabilize it as best we can.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you. Don't ever let anybody tell you you're not an expert. You are. That's why you're here.
MR. REYES: The way we defeat these terrorist networks is by seizing recruitment. We need to remove the motive of why these terrorist organizations are growing. Once you remove that motive, we need stronger intelligence. With that stronger intelligence we create a more isolated situation versus taking a shot in the dark by sending 17,000 more troops sweeping the landscape leaving a lot of destruction behind and just giving them more motive to have these -- the Taliban grow.
SEN. KERRY: So there's really a difference of opinion here, obviously, between those who feel that given the right strategy, those who feel that given the right resources and mission definition you can avoid the negative effects that you are talking about, Corporal, and wind up actually creating a positive response.
Certainly we've seen that in PRTs and other places where we've had that adequate ability. But I understand what you're saying also, that where we have collateral damage, where you have civilian destruction, where have those other things, you have recruitment. I don't disagree with that at all. It's a dilemma.
SEN. LUGAR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me just say, and I suspect each one of us has similar feelings, that we were deeply moved by your testimony this morning. This was important to hear. And I appreciate, having testified as you have, that now you've engaged -- (inaudible) -- by the chairman in vigorous debate of sorts about what our policy ought to be.
I come to this hearing from an equally vigorous debate over breakfast. We had General Brent Scowcroft and I will not ascribe to him any particular views, but there were 16 members of Congress sitting around the table with as diverse a set of opinions as we've heard in this hearing, but they really come down to a fundamental problem that you've illustrated so well, and that is, in terms of your own feelings -- the emotions generated by the service you've given, the people that you have worked with in Afghanistan, at least some of you feel that in fact we must take the time. We must in fact rebuild or build from the beginning a country that is very complex -- that some would say is really almost only been a semi-country made up of tribes, various divisions, various cross-currents in life.
And many people, whether they are for or against that policy, evaluate that this is likely to be very expensive -- maybe not in terms of American lives perpetually or Afghan lives -- maybe just in terms of the resources.
As we've already said, this is in the context of a country presently that is running a trillion-dollar deficit, may have that sort of predicament for several years to come, as opposed to the current, in a world that is similarly troubled.
Now, you could make the case that life is unfair in this respect. The Afghans, after all, didn't create the world economic crisis nor our trillion-dollar deficit nor our problems, really, in recruiting armed forces or even in building our own capacity.
But this is one set of facts. Another, however, more constructive thought is that al Qaeda is not just an Afghan-Pakistani problem, that there are currently al Qaeda in Yemen, in Somalia and various other countries where attacks have occurred on our embassies in Africa in the past. And therefore, in fact, configuration of our response in terms of the armed forces or the intelligence forces that we have ought to be our objective.
In other words, be on the ground in a whole host of countries, not simply Afghanistan and Pakistan, ferreting out where the trouble is. Informing ourselves, either working with resident governments or where there isn't much of a government, to take action to make certain that we are not attacked or that these folks are not effective.
Not an impossible task and when General Petraeus visited with our committee under the chairman's direction we discussed really a number of things which are occurring, which I found reassuring and are not a part of the Afghan-Pakistan situation but are a part of the al Qaeda predicament as we see it -- as a group of organized terrorist cells.
I finally would just say that I found at least the professor's thoughts important with regard to the oil import business. This is an issue that's come before the committee perennially. The fact is we have financed in a great way not just the Afghan-Pakistan problem but other sources of grave foreign policy difficulty.
You can say, well, after all, supply and demand works. The American motorist wanted SUVs -- wanted vans. Why all the worry about economy with regard to oil? First things first back here.
But our inability, I think, in the leadership of the country to illustrate the predicament we've had is in large part our fault and we all have to do better. We will have to be thinking together because the energy situation, not just the oil but in other facets in which we have seen cutoffs to NATO allies and to problems of this sort, are very real and will remain that way.
Likewise, the thought has come forward that multilateral police situation -- difficult thus far to sell to Europeans, who are loyal to NATO -- some loyal to us but have never really believed in the conflict and have a good number of other views even now in their parliaments, as expressed in their low defense budgets, their lack of available transportation for their forces anywhere.
So we have work to do if we're going to go that route, but it's not an improbable task for the future if we're talking about whether it's a short war, a long war, the threat of al Qaeda or other terrorist probably is going to exist for us and for others in alliances that we have.
So let me just -- I don't really have questions of the panel.
I just express appreciation that you brought forward dilemmas that we've got to wrestle with. And I appreciate the thoughts about the president -- about the fact that he and his advisers are strenuously debating these issues -- in my judgment, although I'm not part of the inner circle, have not come to conclusions pragmatically, sort of working day by day.
And as the chairman just visited Pakistan and others likewise returned from that country, they find a very troubled state and that leaving aside whatever has been occurring with regard to the war or the conflict thus far may create enormous dilemmas for the world, quite apart from United States vis-a-vis India or surrounding countries, leaving aside where we started with Afghanistan.
That's going to require on the part of our president, secretaries of State, Defense and maybe others of us who have tried to support and advise this, some extraordinary dilemmas.
Thank you for coming. Thank you for your testimony.
I thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for calling us together.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you so much, Senator Lugar.
SEN. RUSSELL D. FEINGOLD (D-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this historic hearing. It's very important as we chart our way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan we talk to those who have served on the ground and who will live with the after effects of this war for the rest of their lives.
We must also recognize the family members, including Colonel Bacevich, who have lost their loved ones during these difficult times. I also want to thank all the witnesses for being here today and for their selfless service to our country. We are indebted to all of you.
I voted in favor of the authorization to use military force in Afghanistan because that is where al Qaeda, which had planned and carried out the attacks of September 11th, was based. The previous administration's mismanagement of that war, however, was tragic, and it has left us in a very difficult position. The situation of the region remains explosive and the current administration's decision to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan may have no lasting positive impact so long as there are safe havens for militants in Pakistan.
Indeed, the escalation may further destabilize the situation in Pakistan to the detriment of U.S. national security. So while the president is certainly right to focus on this region, I am somewhat concerned that we may be sending our troops right into the eye of the storm with an insufficient strategy for addressing the greatest threat to our national security, which of course lies on the Pakistan side of the border.
As to some questions, General McKiernan requested additional troops in Afghanistan for the purpose of providing security for the Afghan population, yet recent polling indicates that the overwhelming majority of Afghans oppose an increase in troop levels. My sense is that there are mixed feeling among the Afghan population and that our status as a party to the conflict can make it difficult, if not impossible, for our troops to serve a peacemaking function.
What was your experience, Corporal Reyes, on this matter?
MR. REYES: The troop escalation is very unnecessary. With better intelligence, we can create a more isolated situation where we're not going to risk innocent civilian lives and create more resentment towards us. With that, you create a motive for these terrorist groups to become larger, so it's counterproductive to escalate the troops right now.
SEN. FEINGOLD: So your first sentence was what again? It is not necessary?
MR. REYES: Troop escalation isn't necessary, no.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Isn't necessary.
MR. REYES: No, it's not.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Okay, thank you.
Colonel Bacevich, what are the prospects for defeating the insurgency by increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, given some concerns that many, if not most, Afghans in the south oppose the presence of U.S. troops?
MR. BACEVICH: Several people have made the point that this is not a problem that has a military solution, that to the degree that there is a solution, the solution in Afghanistan is going to be found in what is going to be a massive and protracted and tremendously costly exercise in nation-building.
I think that the likelihood of that exercise producing success 10 or 15 years downstream is not great, but I think the larger point to be made -- and I mean, you made it in your introductory remarks, and Senator Lugar I think alluded to the same thing -- is even if we could magically wave our wand and tomorrow have the Afghanistan problem be solved -- the country would be stable, the government would be legitimate -- what exactly would we have achieved in a strategic sense?
And I think in a strategic sense, the gains would be very limited, because as you suggested, and as this administration I think has acknowledged in its creation of this term AfPak, it is a mistake to view Afghanistan in isolation, and in many respects, the larger problem is in neighboring Pakistan, so to invest enormous resources in Afghanistan I think is allowing tactical considerations to take precedence over strategic thinking.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, this is precisely what's been bothering me since I spend four or five days in Pakistan in this region less than a year ago, and after the thoughtful remarks of the chairman after his recent visit there.
I want to follow on this interrelationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. What about the possibility that an escalation in Afghanistan could actually be more destabilizing to Pakistan? Is it -- in other words, in terms of militants spilling back over into that border. Is that a fair concern or not?
MR. BACEVICH: I think it's a very real concern. You know, there's a very interesting -- I think flawed -- new book out by David Kilcullen, the counterinsurgency specialist, called "The Accidental Guerilla." There's a lot about that book I disagree with, but there's one core truth I think that he gives us, and that is the notion that most of the people who fight against us in places like Afghanistan are fighting against us because we're there.
Now, we may not believe that we are invading and occupying countries, but the people on the other end view themselves as being invaded and occupied, so to some degree -- to some measurable degree -- in places like Afghanistan, increasing the U.S. presence actually increases the dimensions of the problem.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Colonel, Admiral Mullen has acknowledged that the Pakistani security service has maintained relations with militants in Pakistan. There are reports that -- press reports that this includes the provision of fuel and ammunition for Taliban operations against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If these allegations are correct, what is the likelihood that we can stabilize the region or deny al Qaeda safe havens there so long as this sort of activity continues?
MR. BACEVICH: Next to none.
SEN. FEINGOLD: All right.
And then Sergeant Chase, in your experience, can we trust the Afghan army and police? Are they motivated or do they have a different perception of what is needed in Afghanistan?
SGT. CHASE: Well, sir, I was in Afghanistan in 2006, and my experience in working with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is limited, but I will say that having been there and spoken to embedded training teams that do work amongst some of these other units, the Afghan National Police, because of the tribal affiliations that they have and because of their locality in their districts and the fact that they come from those areas tends to be a little less effective than, say, the Afghan National Army, where the people come from all over so they have less tribal ties to make decisions within their areas.
In my experience, although limited, my observation and what I've heard from other people is that the ANA is a bit more effective than the ANP, and that the locals don't trust the ANP a lot of times in their districts.
SEN. FEINGOLD: Thank you all.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much, Senator Feingold. Good questions.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN): Mr. Chairman, thank you.
And while I value what I do here in the public arena and think that it's important, I want all of you to know that I think our service pales to what each of you have done and do, and I thank you so much for being here. I thank you for your sincere presentations and for everything that you've done on behalf of our country and will do. I thank you very much for this presentation.
So as I listen to the presentation on the heels of presentations by Mr. Holbrooke and others regarding what our mission is, I'm confused. I have heard -- first of all, let me say that I think that we have fought Afghanistan on the cheap. I do think that Iraq affected everything that we did in Afghanistan. I absolutely believe that's true. I said that as soon as I came back from Afghanistan, and I think that goes -- I don't think anybody will even debate that. I think that is true, and I think it has led us into a very complex situation.
On the other hand, as I hear especially when someone speaks with such assuredness -- and I'm speaking of Mr. Holbrooke -- I get nervous when anybody is that sure of themselves, and I hope the other side of that isn't the often wrong component that sometimes comes with that phrase. Okay?
So I listened -- I thought that Colonel Bacevich's presentation was most interesting. The fact is that al Qaeda exists in many countries -- many, many countries around the world. The stated mission is we're going to in Afghanistan make sure that it's not a safe haven for al Qaeda, and yet in Pakistan we use drones and Hellfire missiles and intelligence to counter that, not troops on the ground.
I hear each of you speak about the relationships that you've developed, and I absolutely understand fully why a sense of a lack of commitment or follow-through to you would be failure in letting people down that you've gotten to know and certainly people who have died in your presence. And I understand that.
But let me just ask Captain Moore and Sergeant McGurk: Do you think that the mission of making Afghanistan, which has been stated, and hopefully not stated just to win stripes for people thinking that, you know, our administration is willing to be strong on defense, but the stated mission to make it so that it's not a safe haven for al Qaeda -- is that the right stated mission? Because it doesn't seem that that's so much as what is driving the two of you in your testimony. It seems to me to be more that we shouldn't let the Afghanistan people down again like we did when Russia was there. I'd just like to understand what motivates much of your testimony.
MR. MCGURK: Sir, I just want to clarify one point. When I say renewing a commitment, I'm not saying to send 60,000 combat troops into Afghanistan. What I mean is more of a civil component. And this holistic approach -- you need to get, we need to get human intelligence within Yemen, within Egypt, Syria, all the places is where the madrassas are that these people are actually, you know, learning this hatred for the West.
I think that Afghanistan, in the terms that I'm referring to as being the front on the war on terror is, this is where everybody is coming to fight. This is back before 9/11 when Osama bin Laden enacted the planes mission. That's when he decided, with the help of some of his other counterparts and some of the other cells decided to take down the twin towers. He said he wanted to draw the United States into fighting on his home turf because "if we beat the Russians, we can beat the United States."
I think we need to have more of a civil component within Afghanistan along with using smart power, diplomatic approaches in addressing issues like the Swat Valley within Pakistan. But at the same sense, like I said, we need to develop more of a robust human intelligence capability because you're not going to -- we could fight all day long for the next 20 years in Afghanistan, we're not going to be able to defeat the Taliban or al Qaeda because they're being recruited, they're being trained in other places and coming to fight us there.
So I would say, sir, that it needs to be a mix of a civil military operation; we need to somehow help the Afghan government start something like a job corps program. I mean, you have in the northeastern part of the country the Afghan, central Afghan government banned any type of timber operations because they were afraid of getting rid or stripping the country of its timber resources. And in the southern part of the country that's where you have, you know, 90 percent of the poppy crops being grown. We spend more time, along with the ANA, burning these crops.
So when you take two lifestyles away from a large group of the Afghan population, what's the next thing they're going to do and what do they know how to do, and that's fight us. So I think we need to get a larger civil component in there, less of a combat troop component. Maybe they can act as a quick reaction force or go into certain areas where there are hotbeds, like along the border with Pakistan, and try to root out the insurgency that way. I think it just needs to be a well-rounded and well-thought-out mission with a mix of civil and military operation.
SEN. CORKER: Thank you.
MR. MOORE: Thank you, sir, and I agree with what of what Sergeant McGurk said and the idea that I also don't feel that these are isolated ideas of providing safety and security for the Afghan people and trying to make sure that Afghanistan is not a hotbed for al Qaeda. I think those are actually very complementary ideas, because without the safety and security being provided within Afghanistan, and without the safety and security not only that we can help provide but that the Afghans are really going to provide for themselves, not only will that be an area for al Qaeda to, you know, to be able to grow and to flourish, but then also it's never going to provide any security or any type of growth for the Afghan people.
I think part of my frustration, which has kind of been throughout, and I'm happy to see, it seems like the administration is really starting to take a new approach to it, is for a while we never had a clear mission about Afghanistan. You know, we weren't sure whether it was democracy, we weren't sure whether it was nation building, we weren't sure if it was stability, but we never had a clear belief as to why we were there. And that was also not only frustrating for the American people but also very frustrating for the soldiers. And it's very tough to build morale and help to keep morale up when you're not quite sure exactly what the mission is.
I think we're starting to clarify that now. I think there's a much better understanding where, as President Obama has clearly said, we're going to provide security and then we're going to leave.
So I think understanding that and then helping to kind of fill that in -- so what exactly does that mean? How exactly are we going to bolster development efforts? How are we going to get the State Department, USAID more involved in what's happening, particularly in the eastern and northeastern part of Afghanistan, is the way we're really going to add color to that larger statement.
SEN. CORKER: Well, I'm glad you have a, with all due respect, a clear idea what the strategy is, because I have no idea what it is other than sending additional troops. So if you could help me, I'd appreciate it. I have to tell you, what I've heard is that Afghanistan is not going to be a safe haven for al Qaeda and that's -- so we're going to double-down with troops and resources. I don't know. I don't know that that clears up anything for me. So since you have a clearer idea, I'd love for you to expand on that some.
MR. MOORE: The clear idea is this, sir, is that without -- security needs to be tantamount to everything, because you cannot implement anything else within that region unless you can provide better security.
SEN. CORKER: So it sounds a lot like Iraq.
MR. MOORE: Well, no. No, it's not like -- especially in this case. First of all, the parallels between Iraq -- I mean, sorry, the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan are stark. We're talking very different countries, very different regions with very different histories. You know, in Afghanistan we're talking about a country that has literally been in a constant state of war for decades and a sporadic state of war for centuries, an area that -- and this is where the whole idea of understanding that clarity of mission, because, you know, this is an area that we've had Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan and the British Empire and the Russians, you know, all being involved.
And there's two things that the Afghans believe, firmly believe, about any time foreign forces will enter their country. The first thing is that they're going to try to convert them and they're going to disrespect Islam; that's one. And the second thing they firmly believe is that soon they will be gone and regardless of what is left behind and regardless of what type of power vacuums are left behind, the foreign forces will leave.
The point is this: By showing a commitment to that country, by showing a commitment -- and again, I think, you know, Sergeant McGurk made a great point, is that it's not just a military component commitment. The military component commitment is important because providing that security is important. But it needs to be complementary with what exactly is that going to do, because if we can increase security aspects and can increase security apparatus within the country and get the extra not only 17,000 troops but 4,000 trainers inside of the area and allow the ANA and the ANP to build up, then we can actually start allocating other resources to make not only Afghanistan not a safe haven for al Qaeda, but then also provide the security and safety and the future for the Afghan people which will keep Afghanistan not a safe haven for al Qaeda.
SEN. CORKER: I want to thank all of you again.
And Colonel, I thought your testimony was exceptionally good and I really didn't have a lot of questions as a result of that.
And Mr. Chairman, I thank you for having this hearing.
And I hope that -- I know that, you know, sometimes partisan issues end up coming into play on major issues like this, but I really appreciate your willingness to look at this issue. I hope we will dig a whole lot deeper. I just have to tell you, I have a, say, an average intelligence. I'm having difficulty connecting the dots and I hope that we'll have additional hearings to help us do so more fully.
SEN. KERRY: Well, Senator Corker, let me just say to you that the testimony's been excellent. I think the questions have been excellent. And it underscores this dilemma.
I am so sympathetic, more so than many people may understand, because of the experience that many of us had, Colonel Bacevich and our generation, which was torn apart over a war that lacked leadership and definition and clarity and reality and truth and a whole bunch of things. And when I hear Sergeant McGurk say, you know, we want to make sure that the honor that should be afforded us for our sacrifice, services there in the policy decisions you've made, that is exactly what brought me to that table years ago.
And when I flew into Iraq a number of years ago, I won't forget the captain who was the pilot of the aircraft, a C-130, as we were going in. He turned to me and he said look, Senator, no matter what, just one thing I ask you: Just make sure that 20 years from now all of this was worth it for us.
And I understand that sentiment. But Colonel Bacevich has raised some very fundamental, larger questions that are almost bigger in a sense than your individual ability to want that relationship you've built with somebody, that old man you met on the street. I understand that and you want that to be meaningful and yeah, they thought, you know, we would just leave again and so forth. The fact is, we are going to leave again, and they do know that, at some point.
And the test here is, you know, how much can you achieve for them and do you have to sometimes measure whether or not -- I mean, the very telling point is part of the reason they fight us is we are there. And so you have to balance this somehow and find a way to deal with some very tricky issues, including -- and I want to turn to Senator Shaheen -- the intelligence piece of this. I mean, if you could get a different footprint somehow, so you have good intel, there are plenty of ways for the United States to prevent al Qaeda from attacking us. And the question is, do you have to have this massive expenditure and footprint and input in order to be able to achieve that goal if that is the limit of your goal? If your goal is larger than that in terms of nation building and otherwise, that's a much more expensive and longer-term proposition, but it also runs up full score against the propositions the colonel put to us appropriately and others have written about, which is, is it achievable?
So we've got some hard work to do and we've got to do a lot of careful analysis here. And I know the administration is approaching this very carefully. There's no -- you know, nobody's suggesting they're offering a guarantee here, but they're trying to make the first steps to see if it is possible, needless to say, to transition to an ANP and an ANA that can stand up for themselves and take on that responsibility and sustain your rightful hope that that outcome will honor your sacrifice, which is what we want.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you all for being here.
SEN. KERRY: Let me just say to everybody, we have a vote that is on. We will have time, because it just started, to be able to conclude.
SEN. SHAHEEN: I will be very quick.
But I do want to thank you for being here, for your insights and for your sacrifices for our country.
You know, there's been a lot of discussion about the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, but I guess the real alternative is U.S. withdrawal.
And what I'd like to ask you is what you think the impact of unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan would be.
And I guess I would ask you if you would begin, Colonel Bacevich.
MR. BACEVICH: I think that there are alternatives -- there are more alternatives than more of the same and then abject withdrawal. I think that there are courses that we could follow that would enable us to achieve what Senator Corker said was the purpose of the exercise -- make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for al Qaeda -- that would not necessarily entail the kind of investment of troops and resources that we've already undertaken and we're about to expand. There are other ways to achieve our purposes. It's not simply do what we're doing or abandonment.
And I think that an example of what might be an alternative would be that we recognize the tribal nature of Afghan politics, acknowledge that their tradition is not one in which authority is effectively exercised from Kabul but it's effectively exercised basically in the outback, and to provide incentives to the tribal chiefs to govern their patch of earth in ways consistent with our interests.
In other words, just don't let al Qaeda in. Provide them incentives to do that.
And where those incentives don't work, then perhaps it may be necessary for us to engage in some kind of a punitive action, not unlike what we're doing in Pakistan, to eliminate any elements of al Qaeda that do find a way, whether working in the seams or not, to establish bases. So I don't think the alternative is either do what we're doing or abandon the country.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you.
If I could ask each of you to respond to that.
SGT. CHASE: With all due respect, sir, if you have suggestions on what could be done more in depth, I think that's kind of what we're all here for is to find out what are our -- what are the alternatives.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Right.
SGT. CHASE: Personally, a blanket withdrawal from Afghanistan would be devastating to Muslim extremism in the world. It would send a message very clearly to the rest of the world and the rest of the extremists that they have not only won and defeated us in Afghanistan, they would now gain momentum for their cause. That would be my fear.
I'm not a policy person. I'm also not a scholar. But pulling out of there would devastate Afghanistan and I think the entire region. And just an example of that was when we left after the Soviets.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you.
MR. MCGURK: It's kind of what I've been saying along and what I said in my initial remarks. I think that just to not even try -- just a unilateral withdrawal and then say sorry, it's just not going to cut it, I honestly think that the type of vacuum that would be created, you would have more insurgents, more Taliban pouring across the Pakistan border. I think you'd have, to a degree, I think that you would kind of take away -- any legitimacy that the Pakistan government has currently would be completely gone. Pakistan is a nuclear state. And I think you would have a people that would be more prone or, excuse me, more apt to allowing a regime like the Taliban into their country because at least it provides a measure of security, whereas we just decided to leave and leave them to their own devices.
As you can tell, I'm very passionate about this from my experiences in Afghanistan.
SEN. SHAHEEN: I appreciate that.
MR. MCGURK: To not at least try -- and I understand that many people say that we can't achieve any measure of success or the type of success that we wanted to achieve when we initially went into Afghanistan; I completely understand that. But having been on the ground and seeing firsthand the people and the culture and, you know, granted, it is a tribal culture that doesn't trust the central government. But being on ground, you -- they're not a number to me. It's not, oh, it's the Afghan people. It's not, this is just Afghanistan. These are real people I dealt with on a daily basis. And to just leave them and say, you know, we're really sorry, we screwed up by going into Iraq; we really can't afford to try to at least to some measure fix what we did in Afghanistan; we're leaving -- sorry. To me, that's very unacceptable.
I grew up in a military family. I love this country wholeheartedly. I joined the military not to become a weapon of war but to be a deterrent to it. And I really think that we should -- and I don't want to keep repeating myself, but I really think we should at least try to do something to help the Afghan people before we leave.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you.
MR. MOORE: I believe that an abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan would not only be a tactical mistake but also, more importantly, a strategic mistake. It would be primarily a tactical mistake because, again, you're giving up a primary (front ?) to a place that we committed to, to a people that we committed to, to a culture that we committed to. And primarily on the strategic side, it would also send a message to the rest of the world that the United States can't stick, that, you know, once the wave of any type of political pressure or any type of political will begins to wane, that regardless of whatever commitments have been made, regardless of whatever intentions have been sought out, regardless of whatever speeches have been done, that the United States is not going to commit to seeing something through.
Now, again, we need to be strategic about how we do that, and again, I agree with Dr. Bacevich where he states it's not, you know, more of the same or complete withdrawal. But at the same time, we need to understand not only the short-term but the long-term ramifications of the message that that sends to the rest of the world about where we are as a nation.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you.
MR. REYES: I keep going back to my earlier statements. I don't think a complete withdrawal would be the answer, but I know a troop escalation is a huge mistake. You want to occupy the country with that many troops, that's a sign of poor intelligence. With stronger intelligence, there's no reason to occupy the country with that massive amount of troops. So we need to strengthen our intelligence and then plan and then execute.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you to each of you for your very compelling testimony.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Senator Shaheen.
I want to thank everybody on this panel enormously. And let me just say quickly, I completely agree with what Colonel Bacevich just said and I think is the conclusion of the panel. The option here is not, in my judgment, sort of a, you know, throw up your hands and complete withdrawal, which would be, I think -- would invite all kinds of repercussions and significant negative consequences in our policy in any number of ways.
But, in addition to that, nor is more of the same -- which I want to emphasize, the Obama administration, we've been trying to work very closely. I completely agree with the observation about the tribalism. This is something that I have become more and more tuned into. The more I'm traveling now in the Middle East, all of the Middle East, and in North Africa and so forth, it just is definitional in terms of how we need to approach things. And we have not been thoughtful enough and sensitive enough in the past.
We have to remember that the Soviets attacked and destroyed some of that infrastructure. I mean, they killed a lot of tribal chiefs. And the strength that used to be there has been somewhat diminished. But of this I am convinced: The vast majority of Afghans do not want to be Taliban and they don't buy into the extremist Taliban. And there are a lot of Taliban for hire right now and we need to understand that as we think through our approach. But it has to be very thoughtful, very sensitive.
I think the administration is working overtime to tune that in. We've met with General Petraeus. We've met with Ambassador Holbrooke and others. There's a lot of thinking going on about how you empower entities outside of Kabul, how you deal with corruption, how we get around this and frankly heed a lot of the wisdom that was in Colonel Bacevich's testimony.
So there is a balance here and that's what we're going to try to strike. And I think the fact -- I agree with Senator Corker, it has been woefully fought on the cheap and stupidly in many ways. Not stupidly from a military point of view, but the civilian leadership guidelines and possibilities were so constrained and predefined that the military folk on the ground have been operating under an unbelievable handicap and we've lost enormous headway as a consequence of that.
So we're going to try to be as thoughtful as we can, smart as we can. This is not the only hearing we're going to have on this by far. And we have a lot of distance yet to go. This committee will exercise its oversight authority and I will certainly do all I can to live up to the responsibility as chair to see that we thoroughly vet all of the possibilities and try to come up with the smartest policy possible.
Colonel, I have to run and vote. I wanted to catch you for a moment. But I hope I can sit down with you when we get back to Massachusetts.
Mr. BACEVICH: Yes, sir, I'd enjoy that.
SEN. KERRY: I really appreciate everybody's testimony.
Each of you -- I know this is not the first thing you trained for, so we're just hugely appreciative of the fact that you can here today. Each of you expressed your candid personal opinions. I know that's not always easy and, particularly in the case of several of you, very difficult on an emotional level. So we're grateful to you. Thank you.
Thank you for your service. Thanks for your testimony. Thanks for your continued service. And we look forward to a continued relationship with all of you. Thank you.
Stand adjourned. (Sounds gavel.)