A provision allowing for the creation of an outside review of U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is included in the recently approved defense budget for next year, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) announced today.
Wolf, the author of the legislation that created the Iraq Study Group (ISG), has been pushing the Obama Administration to undertake an outside review of the war in Afghanistan for nearly 18 months. Given the steady erosion in public support for the war effort, Wolf felt that it was important to bring "fresh eyes" to the strategy to ensure the best possible outcome.
He said the FY 2012 Defense Appropriations bill permits the Secretary of Defense to spend $1 million to create an independent, bipartisan panel to review current U.S. strategy - military, political and diplomatic -- in Afghanistan and Pakistan and offer suggestions on how to ensure success in this important region. The House Appropriations Committee earlier this year unanimously approved Wolf's amendment to the annual spending bill, which was incorporated into the package of nine appropriations bills recently passed by the House and Senate and expected to be signed into by the president this week.
"We are 10 years into our nation's longest running war and the American people and their elected representatives do not have a clear sense of what we are aiming to achieve, why it is necessary, and how far we are from attaining our goal," Wolf said. "The men and women who serve in Afghanistan, as well as their families, deserve a credible review of strategy in the region to ensure that we are successful."
Wolf believes any review of strategy in Afghanistan also must look at U.S. policy in Pakistan. He urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who served on the Iraq Study Group, to move quickly to set up the panel.
"One only need to read a newspaper to see continued reports of violence in Pakistan, including the murder of prominent Christians like Shahbaz Bhatti and the comments from former Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen indicating that the Pakistani military actively supports terror cells launching attacks inside Afghanistan," Wolf said. "It is clear that in order to achieve any order of success in Afghanistan, we must address a number of issues involving Pakistan."
Wolf said an Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group should include prominent experts in various fields not currently serving in government. He said former Congressmen Rep. Duncan Hunter Sr. and Ike Skelton, both of whom served as chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, would be excellent choices to serve on the panel.
"Dedicated public servants such as James Baker, Lee Hamilton, Ed Meese and Robert Gates served on the Iraq Study Group," Wolf said. "I believe people of equal distinction and expertise should serve on the Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group."
Ronald E. Neumann, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007 welcomed the idea of a comprehensive, independent assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"It is my view that the outcome of the current war will affect American security at home as well as stability across a broad part of East and Central Asia for many years," Neumann said. "National security policies of this consequence deserve detailed and expert evaluation to inform the political discussion that is an inevitable part of our democracy. The actions of the United States are a central element in the plans of friends, allies and enemies. Clarity about our long term goals is needed as is credibility about the consistency of whatever polices the nation's leaders choose. A well designed and thoughtful commission will have the opportunity to contribute to this purpose.
Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, underscored the value of an independent commission to assess the situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan, stating, "achieving military victory in Afghanistan is one thing, but our success overall is contingent on several other factors. Afghanistan also needs economic and political stability to ensure that a U.S. victory holds, and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship must also be an issue of focus, not just for the future of Afghanistan, but the entire region. Based on my experience in Afghanistan, serving in the Marine Corps, an assessment by an independent commission will go a long way toward acquiring a better perspective on the best methods of achieving our strategic objectives. I commend Congressman Wolf for putting forward this initiative and it's most certainly in America's national security interests for the Secretary of Defense to establish the commission and put it to work as soon as possible."