Congressman Ron Klein (FL-22) today prepared a statement for the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing titled "U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan." Following the President's major speech on the way forward in Afghanistan last night, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee had the opportunity to meet with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at today's hearing.
In his statement, Klein focused on the need for a comprehensive regional strategy, noting that "terrorist groups do not respect national borders, and they don't need to control a whole country to plan terrorist attacks." Klein also stood up as a strong steward of taxpayer money, committing to "a rigorous oversight process of our federal resources that we spend in Afghanistan and around the world."
Klein's full statement, as submitted for the record, follows.
Statement of Congressman Ron Klein
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
December 2, 2009
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen, thank you for holding this important hearing today. I would also like to thank the witnesses for joining us as we discuss how the United States should move forward in Afghanistan. Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, thank you for being here.
The goal in Afghanistan is to eliminate the threat that Al-Qaeda poses to our national security. We must never forget that we were attacked on September 11th, and on that tragic day, we lost thousands of American lives on our own soil.
According to the State Department 2008 Country Reports on Terrorism, last year Al-Qaeda and associated networks "continued to lose ground, both structurally and in the court of world public opinion, but remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners."
Now, the enemy that attacked us in 2001 is re-gaining momentum, and not just in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda's leadership resides in Pakistan, and Al-Qaeda is building a presence in Somalia and Yemen. Officials have discovered and, in some cases, dismantled Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizational support cells in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mali. That means that even if we are successful at rooting out the threat of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, we must be cognizant and pro-active about preventing a terrorist threat from spreading to new and vulnerable places.
Let's be clear: terrorist groups do not respect national borders, and they don't need to control a whole country to plan terrorist attacks. If the London and Madrid bombings taught us anything, it is that terrorists can plan attacks even from Western, urban areas. Just a few terrorists can wreak havoc and cause tragedy in our most important cities without an enormous infrastructure. Al-Qaeda needs a satellite phone and perhaps enough space for a training camp. Therefore, we need a coherent strategy to prevent terrorist groups from just moving from one country to the next. I would urge our military and diplomatic officials to develop a comprehensive stabilization plan to ensure that Al-Qaeda does not create a sanctuary that could further threaten our national security.
The President made his case last night for a new strategy. This is not a blank check, nor is it an open-ended commitment. And as the President indicated, "this burden is not ours alone to bear." Our partners must include NATO allies as well as those countries with an elevated Al Qaeda presence. All of us face the same enemy. Furthermore, the President's strategy is a direct challenge to the Afghan government, its security forces and the Afghan people to step up and take responsibility for their own country. If they cannot fight this war, we cannot fight it for them.
It is clear that there is a price to pay if we don't increase our troop presence--and there's also a price to pay if we do. Quite literally, we must commit ourselves to a rigorous oversight process of our federal resources that we spend in Afghanistan and around the world. As U.S. troops begin to transfer responsibilities to the Afghan National Security Forces, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that weapons and other equipment do not get into the wrong hands.
Finally, regardless of the plan that moves forward, we, as Americans, have a responsibility to those who put on the uniform. We must make sure that when they serve in theater, we give them every tool they need to carry out their mission, and when they come home, every benefit that they have earned.
We have much to consider as we move ahead. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished witnesses. Only with accurate and complete information can we make a truly informed decision.