Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today renewed his call for the creation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group (APSG), after a Pentagon report released this week detailed the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan.
Wolf successfully added a provision to the FY 2012 defense spending bill providing $1 million for the creation of the APSG and has been pushing the Obama Administration since 2009 to have an outside review to examine U.S. policy and goals in Afghanistan.
In today's letter to President Obama, Wolf cited the report's findings that the Taliban remain a threat, the Afghan government is rife with corruption, and the number of insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO coalition partners is up to 37 this year, compared with just two in 2007. He described the Obama Administration and the Department of Defense's failing policies in Afghanistan by quoting President Hamid Karzai, who recently blamed the United States for the insecurity in Afghanistan.
"Given this dreary assessment, I remain deeply disappointed that you have refused to use the money provided by Congress to appoint the Afghanistan/Pakistan Study Group to review the U.S. strategy," Wolf wrote.
"More than 2,000 service members have been killed since fighting commenced in 2001," he continued. "Many service members have served four or more tours in multiple theaters, yet you refuse to use money authorized by Congress to convene a panel that could offer solutions that will decrease the number of U.S. casualties."
Wolf noted that, despite the Obama Administration's claim that $1 million would be an unwise use of resources, media reports have shown that more than $800,000 has been spent flying Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to and from his home in California many weekends.
Visiting home that often is "a luxury certainly not provided to a service member on their fifth tour of duty," Wolf wrote. "Is [that] a better use of taxpayer money than getting the best minds in our country to provide "fresh eyes' on U.S. policy in this troubled region?"
Wolf concluded by writing that public officials "have a solemn duty to protect those we order into combat. For the sake of our forces in theater and the safety of our nation, I once again implore you to use the money available to create the APSG."
The full text of the letter is below.
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20502
Dear Mr. President:
This week, the New York Times reported on the bleak state of affairs in Afghanistan. Citing a Pentagon report, the article stated, "The assessment found that the Taliban remain resilient, that widespread corruption continues to weaken the central Afghan government and that Pakistan persists in providing critical support to the insurgency. Insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their NATO coalition partners, while still small, are up significantly: there have been 37 so far in 2012, compared with 2 in 2007." Given this disturbingly dreary assessment, I remain deeply disappointed that you have refused to use the money provided by Congress to appoint the Afghanistan/Pakistan Study Group (APSG) to review United States strategy.
The report's stark assessment of Afghan capabilities is all the more discouraging, given the recent comments of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. As you may know, in a recent interview, President Karzai blamed the insecurity in Afghanistan on the United States and our NATO countries, saying, "Part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan." It is appalling that President Karzai would make such statements, given the enormous sacrifice made over the last 11 years by coalition forces.
With your policy faltering and the Afghan president blaming us for all the ills in his country, it perplexes me that you refuse to use appropriated dollars to establish the APSG. More than 2,000 service members have been killed since fighting commenced in 2001. Many service members have served four or more tours in multiple theaters, yet you refuse to use money authorized by Congress to convene a panel that could offer solutions that could decrease the number of U.S. casualties. In fact, both your current and former Defense secretaries served as members of the Iraq Study Group, so they both know the success it achieved and that similar results could be produced by the APSG.
In addition to the strategic failure of your policy, the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) documented numerous incidents of U.S. aid money being wasted through graft, corruption and mismanagement. In just one example, the SIGAR report notes that an Army sergeant pleaded guilty to approving fake documents that allowed $1.5 million worth of fuel to be stolen. While I am sure your administration takes the SIGAR reports seriously and is trying to address the problems raised, at the same time you are actively ignoring policy resources that could provide valuable insight and possible solutions to these and other problems.
I find all the arguments your administration officials have used to oppose the creation of the APSG to be woefully insufficient. In his November 5 letter to me, General Martin Dempsey claims that using the $1 million authorized for the APSG would be an unwise diversion of resources. Yet in May, the media reported that more than $800,000 had been spent to fly your secretary of defense to his home in California many weekends, a figure that now likely exceeds $1 million. I do not know if this was an arrangement you made specifically with Secretary Panetta before he accepted the job, but the money spent flying him to and from California could have more than paid for the APSG.
The wasted money cited by the SIGAR report, as well as the money spent flying Secretary Panetta back to the comfort of his home in California, would provide more than enough resources to establish the APSG. Do you believe that flying Secretary Panetta home every weekend -- a luxury certainly not provided to a service member on their fifth tour of duty --- is a better use of taxpayer money than getting the best minds in our country to provide "fresh eyes" on U.S. policy in this troubled region? As public officials, we have a solemn duty to protect those we order into combat. For the sake of our forces in theater and the safety of our nation, I once again implore you to use the money available to create the APSG.
As I have stated many times, I do not have the answers on how to assure a successful outcome in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, I firmly believe that the APSG could provide insight into the problems plaguing the region and ways that we can better protect national security for decades to come.
Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress