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Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Afghanistan: A Plan to Turn the Tide? (Panel I)


Location: Washington, DC


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Mr. Chairman, thank you. I apologize for being late. I was at the caucus meeting on the stimulus, but glad to be here now and welcome our witnesses, this panel and the next.

I apologize, sir, because I wasn't here to hear your testimony, but I've gotten a quick update on it. And I want to pick up where Senator Hagel left off. I think your quote is that "nobody can tell me that it's not going in a positive direction." And you've just had a little go-around with Senator Hagel about that. And I don't want to get caught up completely in the definitions or semantics with regard to it, but the facts on the ground -- and facts are pretty indisputable -- seem to indicate between 2001 and 2005 there were five suicide bombings in Afghanistan. There were 77 in the first six months of this past year alone.

Those of us who have traveled to the region and those of us who had the intelligence briefings know that we are being told about the rise of the Taliban, the increased ability of the Taliban to strike, about the reconstitution of al Qaeda and so forth.

There is an increase in heroin trade. President Karzai himself said to me at dinner in Kabul that he would describe his economy as a narco-economy. It's not yet a narco-state, but it's a narco-economy.

So how is it, you know, when you have the Oxfam representatives there now reporting, quote, "Humanitarian conditions rarely seen outside sub-Saharan Africa," and there are tensions between Kabul and the governors and the regions, the ability of the government -- there is suspicion about the government -- I mean, all of the indicators that wise observers from, you know, Ambassador Holbrooke, General Jones, Ambassador Abshire or others, who -- all of whom made reports public right here in this room yesterday. contradict what you're saying.

So how do we get a baseline that's going to be accurate here in terms of your decisions and your choices?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it's important just to think back a little bit before you think forwards. Any snapshot is going to show a terribly underdeveloped country with a weak government, a raging insurgency and an enormous poppy crop. You can take that picture most any time --

SEN. KERRY: No, it's bigger than it was when we started, sir.

MR. BOUCHER: I know that.

SEN. KERRY: And the conditions are worse than they were when we started. We're going the opposite direction.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's generally true.

SEN. KERRY: Excuse me?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think that's generally true.

SEN. KERRY: You think 77 suicide bombings in six months --

MR. BOUCHER: Bombings are horrible --

SEN. KERRY: -- is not worse than five in four years?

MR. BOUCHER: I think it is worse. There's more bombings. But that doesn't mean that the overall condition in the country is worse. If you think back a year ago, what were we talking about, what were you hearing in your intelligence briefings? We were hearing the Taliban was going to try to take Kandahar. We were hearing they were going to launch a major spring offensive.

We were hearing that they were going to try to push into -- they were going to try to take provinces and occupy territory. They failed. They didn't take Kandahar, they didn't launch an offensive, they didn't take new territory. They've been pushed out of strongholds and -- (inaudible) -- bombing.

SEN. KERRY: The point is there's -- what the report said yesterday -- and it's important to listen carefully to what is being said -- is not that it has failed but that it is moving in the wrong direction. It also said that the military will always win these confrontations. There is no issue about the ability to prevent them from taking over Kandahar. That's not the measurement here.

We can fight this to that kind of -- I mean, unless, you know, we become ultimately like the Soviet Union, where our presence doesn't produce enough economic results that we begin to lose the populace. But yesterday these eminent persons reported we still have the populace. We still have support. But they all see and sense and are hearing reports and have personally visited and found that it is moving in the wrong direction and we are risking losing that support and ultimately putting at risk our presence itself if we don't deliver on the economic side.

So, you know, would you not agree that many of the reconstruction efforts -- the water irrigation, for instance. The water irrigation is worse today than it was when we went in. Worse -- excuse me, worse than pre-Soviets, because the Soviets helped to destroy that. But we haven't made a lot of progress in restoring those projects, and much of the reconstruction is stalled.

MR. BOUCHER: Sir, I've been to Afghanistan many times. I was there last week. I was in the east, where U.S. forces have done a terrific job, not only of fighting, but of building. I told a story in my opening statement -- in Konar province, which was one of the most violent last year, they're not talking about the number of insurgents in the Konar Valley now. They're talking about the number of Internet cafes and gas stations and markets along the road that they built. They're talking to villagers about the valleys that we can reach with other roads. We have seen transformed situations in a number of areas where we've been able to apply all these tools in a coherent and consistent manner.

That doesn't mean we've been able to do it everywhere in the country. There's a lot of work still left to do. But I just think that if you see that kind of progress, that's the test of whether we're achieving anything. You may say that the Taliban's failure to win on the battlefield is not the true measure. I would probably say their ability to blow themselves up with suicide bombs in not the true measure either. I think this war is going to be won by delivering good governance, meaning safety, justice, opportunity, education, health, delivering that at the district and provincial level in Afghanistan.

SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't think any of us disagree.

MR. BOUCHER: And that's the measure.

SEN. KERRY: That was -- that's exactly the measure that each of the reports laid out yesterday.


SEN. KERRY: And none of us would disagree that that's ultimately the measure. But by that measurement, those reports and many of us are asserting that we are not moving at the pace and in the direction that we ought to be to achieve that.

I mean, let me just ask you quickly, because time's about to run out. On the Paddy Ashdown issue, obviously the Karzai government is concerned about the national sovereignty issue and the prospective powers of a high commissioner. But without one entity in charge and sort of helping to coordinate, pull things together, it's hard to see how you really put in place the strategy that we need.

Why did President Karzai oppose that? And is it still under consideration, perhaps with a different nominee?

MR. BOUCHER: Senator, I absolutely agree with you that we need someone who can help pull this stuff together even tighter in the international community and in Kabul. There's a lot of very good coordination going on now, a lot of committees, a lot of groups that meet. When I was up in Jalalabad, the military and the anti-narcotics folks were up there planning strategy, along with the governor and the economic folks.

So there's a lot of good coordination going on, but having a single figure who can help bring together the international community remains very important to us.

SEN. KERRY: Is it still under consideration?

MR. BOUCHER: It's -- we're going to have to look at other candidates unfortunately. Paddy Ashdown, we thought, would have been a superb man for this job.

SEN. KERRY: Are you over the sovereignty issue?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we are. I think there were particular, a particular hullabaloo raised in Kabul by people that might have felt threatened by his person or his position. But I do think we're over the basic issue of whether there needs to be a strong international coordinator, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure we get one.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


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