U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement at a Full Committee hearing entitled: "Afghanistan 2014: Year of Transition." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"As Chair of the subcommittee of jurisdiction over Afghanistan, and together with Chairman Chabot and the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, we held two hearings this year that examined this very issue: the transition in Afghanistan and the way forward for the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I also led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to Kabul this past Memorial Day weekend with my wonderful colleagues Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Bera, and we had the honor to meet with our brave men and women who serve our country in Afghanistan -- both as Armed Services and State Department personnel -- and they do a tremendous job day in and day out.
While in Afghanistan we had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Karzai, and you never know what you're going get. From our conversation, it seemed like he was pretty optimistic about the final bilateral security agreement and was looking forward to its completion.
Now, however, Karzai is balking at signing the bilateral security agreement - which his grand council endorsed - and, as recently as this past weekend, lashed out at the U.S. and accused us of threatening him. I'm extremely concerned that these latest developments will damage our national security interests in the region, further destabilize the region, and Karzai's flirting with Iran is quite dangerous for our national security interests so we remain perplexed and concerned.
In our delegation we raised concerns about his neighbor the Iranian regime and the threat that poses to our interests in the region.
Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Bera will probably agree with me that he dismissed the threat that Iran poses, but Pakistan, that's the real threat to stability for Afghanistan, he said. So it shouldn't come as a big surprise that this past weekend, Karzai and the leader of Iran, Rouhani, announced the agreement of a long-term strategic pact that ranges from political cooperation to economic and security partnerships, once again undermining and jeopardizing the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship.
What is Karzai's calculus here -- is he trying to hedge his bets by cozying up to Iran and being outwardly defiant to the U.S.? What is his thinking?
While in Afghanistan, and during our hearings, I also expressed my concerns about the status of our counternarcotics operations in a post drawdown Afghanistan. We were told that due to the lack of personnel, these U.S.-led counternarcotics operations will be severely limited in scope, and the latest numbers indicate that this was a record year for poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.
I believe this issue of counter narcotics operations is not getting the attention it rightly deserves considering that terrorist activities are typically funded through narcotics.
If we can't conduct the kind of operations needed to reduce the poppy production and we don't have enough manpower now to combat this issue, what are we going to do next year and post-2014 to stop the illicit drug trade that generates over 100 million dollars a year for terrorist groups?
I've been concerned that we are allowing the post-2014 residual force size to be decided politically and that it is purely numbers driven, rather than focused on the task and what is needed, what is the mission that still needs to be done in Afghanistan.
Mr. Dumont, you testify that it is a significant accomplishment that, since taking the lead, the Afghans have been increasingly able to maintain the gains made by U.S. and coalition forces:
That may be true now, but what about in the post withdrawal Afghanistan when they won't have quite a robust international force in support, or possibly with no U.S. presence at all if the President goes with the zero option -- when the extremists no longer see us as an impediment to their goals and come at the Afghan forces in full force -- will they be able to sustain those gains?
When do you predict that the White House in coordination with the State Department will decide on the troop level number?"
NOTE: This is an edited version that combines Chairman Ros-Lehtinen's statement and questions.