"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the bombings yesterday in Boston."
"I join you in welcoming General Dunford. General, I thank you for your continued willingness to go into harm's way in order to serve the country. Please ensure the brave men and women you lead in Afghanistan know how grateful we are for their sacrifice, and that of their families.
"As we discussed in my office last week, I have been to Afghanistan 11 times over the past decade and I am concerned, as many of my colleagues are, that we might squander the sacrifice of American lives and investment of over $80 billion in assistance to Afghanistan by a precipitous withdrawal of forces at the end of 2014. We have seen this happen before with this Administration, in December of 2011, when all of the U.S. forces were removed from Iraq.
"Today we are just beginning to see the results of the premature removal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. We hear reports every day that the strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq is growing and so are sectarian-motivated acts of terrorism. The future of Iraq looks increasingly violent and the prospects for a peaceful and democratic Iraq are going down. I am determined not to let this happen in Afghanistan.
"In Afghanistan, President Obama is making the mistake of deciding on troop levels without defining the underlying objectives, strategy, and mission; this is backwards. Strategy drives troop requirements; not the other way around. Decisions on objectives should depend on our objectives. Without some continuing level of U.S. and international support, civil war and fragmentation are likely to engulf Afghanistan and destabilize the region providing a breeding ground for extremism and threatening the security of Pakistan and its nuclear weapons.
"The mission should include continuing to train and advise the Afghan National Security Forces, so we can preserve our security investment of almost $60 billion, and we should preserve our counterterrorism line of effort to disrupt and dismantle threats to the homeland. In my office, General Dunford and I discussed the need to have capability to support Afghan National Security Forces and conduct counterterrorism efforts in all regions of Afghanistan -- which is an area four times the size of Oklahoma.
"For such a mission that also must have the ability to protect itself, General Mattis told this committee he recommends approximately 20,000 troops remain in Afghanistan after 2014: 13,600 U.S. troops and about half as many international forces. I trust the professional opinion of military commanders on the ground to assess the conditions on the battlefield and then match force structure to the mission that needs to be accomplished. For that reason, I find the number being floated in the media of 8,000 to 12,000 to be an entirely unreasonable target. A force of only 10,000 will barely be able to protect itself, and would likely result in ceding the city of Herat in the west to Iranian influence, and the city of Mazar-E Sharif in the north to the drug warlords. And the fact that President Obama's deputy national security adviser publicly talked about the idea of zero troops is patently irresponsible and breaks faith with our military men and women who have sacrificed for this country on the front lines of Afghanistan.
"On my frequent trips to Afghanistan over the past 10 years, I have seen the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces and the improved professionalization of their ranks. The number and type of Afghan security forces sustained past 2014 needs to match the security conditions on the ground and be able to maintain both the security and the confidence of the Afghan people. The increased ability of the Afghan forces to lead security operations gives me hope, but also makes it clear that the job training, advising, and assisting is far from complete. I look forward to General Dunford's estimate of what the number of Afghan forces needs to be in the post-2014 environment. From my previous discussions with General Dunford, General Allen, and General Mattis, it is obvious that the right level is closer to 352,000 than it is to 230,000, at least through 2018.
"Internally, there are three major internal political issues that will critically influence chances for success in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond: 1.) negotiation of the Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan which will have provisions for the status of U.S. forces, 2.) the April 2014 Afghan presidential elections and transition of power, and 3.) efforts towards political reconciliation with insurgents. Externally, the role that Pakistan chooses to take in the region will have major repercussions in Afghanistan. The stability of one country directly affects the stability of the other. Pakistan general elections in 2013 will be the 11th general election for Pakistan since 1962, and will possibly be the first successful democratic transition between two elected Pakistani governments. The security environment in Afghanistan will influence the movement, operations and global reach of extremist transnational terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries, and directly impact the stability of Pakistan, a country that possesses nuclear weapons.
"Although I am intently focused on the post-2014 security environment, I am mindful that the 2013 and 2014 fighting seasons are critical to setting conditions for success and I worry that inadequate funding will erode the fighting capability of our troops in harm's way. The President's budget proposal fails to address the unprecedented resource challenges facing our military today. To preserve our frontline combat capability, the Navy is tying up carrier strike groups at the pier, the Air Force is grounding squadrons of combat aircraft, and the Army is cancelling brigade size training at our National Training Centers; saving today's money while undermining tomorrow's combat capability. The effect of this deteriorating readiness will be felt by the fighting force as soon as next year's fighting season, by the men and women we send to combat in Afghanistan in 2014. The President must set aside political posturing and get serious about working with Congress on a lasting solution to the challenges facing our military. The troops fighting for this nation deserve nothing less.
"General, I thank you again for your service and for appearing before us today and I look forward to your testimony."