At a Defense Department oversight hearing today, U.S. Senator Herb Kohl urged a withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and questioned the leadership of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on which Kohl serves.
Kohl commended Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen for the critical gains the U.S. has made in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the global fight against terrorism, most recently the death of Osama bin Laden.
"In light of this progress, many Americans are hoping that our forces can finally come home from Afghanistan after a decade of war. I share this desire to begin withdrawing our forces from Afghanistan, beginning with a sizable and sustained reduction in forces this summer," Kohl said.
Kohl also expressed concern about the government of Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai.
"President Karzai seems increasingly hostile to the American presence in Afghanistan, and his government, as we know, is plagued by corruption. My first question is whether you see President Karzai playing a positive or negative role in Afghanistan. But I'd also like to hear you both talk about what comes after Karzai. Presumably he will not be president forever. What kind of relationships are we building with Afghan leaders from other political parties and ethnic groups, both in power and in the opposition?" Kohl asked.
Secretary Gates said that President Karzai plans to step down in 2014. He indicated that the United States is speaking with a broad range of Afghan leaders across the country, and that a majority of leaders now in place in the districts, sub-districts and provinces arrived at the positions through merit. Secretary Gates said that President Karzai views the United States as an ally, not an occupier. He expressed President Karzai's concerns about civilian casualties and oversight of private security companies and his country's fatigue after nearly ten years of war.