I join the Chairman in welcoming the distinguished nominees. The Foreign Relations Committee is taking up these nominations at a critical time. It is important to avoid gaps in leadership that could diminish the effectiveness of our policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. We look forward to hearing the Administration's assessments of the situation in those countries and its plans for moving forward.
American policy in Afghanistan has been evolving on the margins. Troop levels are anticipated to be reduced in the coming months, and we have seen some narrowing of the mission. However, the United States continues to spend enormous sums in that country on national building objectives that ultimately may contribute little to U.S. vital interests. We need a clear explanation of what metrics must be satisfied to achieve the original intent of the mission -- to prevent Afghanistan territory from being used as a terrorist safe haven.
It is essential that Afghanistan is viewed in the broader strategic context and that our policy there is not determined by political optics or inertia. If we reapportioned our worldwide military and diplomatic assets without reference to where they are now, it is doubtful that a rational review would commit so many resources to Afghanistan. The country is important, but does not hold that level of strategic value for us, especially at a time when our nation is confronting a debt crisis, our armed forces have been strained by repeated combat deployments, and we are attempting to place more emphasis on East Asia.
Further, we know that al Qaeda has a far more significant presence in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. To the extent that our purpose in Afghanistan is to confront the global terrorist threat, we should be refocusing resources on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, parts of North Africa, and other locations.
In this context, the question becomes how to transition to an efficient strategy for protecting our vital interests in Afghanistan over the long term that does not involve massive open-ended expenditures and large American military deployments.
The Pakistan side of the border has a fundamentally different dynamic. Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups maintain a strong presence in the country. There is no question that the threat of these groups, combined with worries about state collapse, conflict between India and Pakistan, the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, and Pakistan's intersection with other states in the region make it a strategically vital country worth the cost of engagement.
But the contradictions inherent in Pakistani society and government necessitate that we apply intense oversight to ensure that our assistance and diplomacy advance our objectives. Our ambassador will be the critical player in evaluating whether our programs in Pakistan are working and contributing to a genuine partnership between our two countries. It is worth noting that in 2011 almost 3,200 Pakistanis died in terrorist-related incidents. Despite our differences, our countries have strong incentives to cooperate on economic and security issues.
I appreciate the sacrifices that our nominees have made on behalf of U.S. national security, and I applaud the commitment they are showing in accepting these very challenging assignments. I thank the Chairman.