U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement during today's hearing, "Afghanistan: Assessing the Road Ahead." Featuring testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, the hearing followed President Obama's announcement Tuesday of an increased U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.
"We can't rewrite history. As the President noted during his speech at West Point, we went to war in Afghanistan not by choice but after al-Qaeda attacked our country. Regrettably, the previous administration allowed itself to be distracted from Afghanistan -- and our fight against terrorism -- by what it was doing in Iraq. President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, has been faced with the tough reality that has emerged from the mistakes made by others. I commend him for reaffirming that our core goal is to disable and destroy al-Qaeda anywhere they seek safe haven around the globe.
"I share President Obama's commitment to protect our nation from terrorists like al-Qaeda and others who seek to do Americans harm. I whole-heartedly agree with the President that the Afghan people and their government must take responsibility for the future growth and stability of their nation. But I remain unconvinced that we should increase American forces to uphold Afghanistan's internal security. I am skeptical of sending additional U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan to perform the duties Afghans must do themselves.
"As the President stated, we want to make sure that al-Qaeda does not return to Afghanistan and we must help stabilize Pakistan so that it no longer serves as a refuge for al-Qaeda or other terrorists. I strongly support President Obama's announced commitment to counter threats on both sides of the border. But much of the implementation strategy he described is predicated on the actions of the Karzai government, which has proven to be an unreliable and ineffective partner. Government corruption was particularly visible in the recent flawed elections. We are not looking for perfection from our Afghan partners, but a larger U.S. military presence will not transform the current leadership into one that can overcome corruption, nor will it transform inherently tribal and regional structures into a functioning national government.
"Only a planned reduction in U.S. combat troops, matched with enhanced diplomatic and development efforts with regional and tribal partners, will demonstrate to the Afghan government and the Afghan people that we support them but they are responsible for the security and the future direction of their nation."