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BIDEN: 'Back to What Really Matters: Afghanistan, Pakistan and America's Security'

Location: Washington, DC

BIDEN: 'Back to What Really Matters: Afghanistan, Pakistan and America's Security'

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) delivered the following remarks today at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York upon his return from Pakistan and Afghanistan:

‘Back to What Really Matters: Afghanistan, Pakistan and America's Security'
Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City
February 25, 2008

**Remarks Prepared for Delivery**

The next President will have to rally the American people and the world to "fight them over there unless we want to fight them over here." The "over there" is not - as President Bush has falsely and repeatedly claimed - Iraq, but rather the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And the outcome of this battle will be determined less by bullets than by dollars, resolve and ideas. The Afghan-Pakistan border region is where the 9/11 attack was plotted. It is where most attacks in Europe since 9/11 originated. It is where Osama bin Laden and his top confederates still enjoy a safe haven, planning new attacks.

And it is where we must urgently shift our focus to the real central front in the so-called war on terrorism using the totality of America's strength.

I just returned from both countries with my colleagues, Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. The trip reconfirmed my conviction that Afghanistan's fate and Pakistan's future are joined, and America's security is tied to both.

That's what I want to talk about today.


We don't have to imagine what a failed state in Afghanistan could mean for America's security. We already know. Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for al Qaeda. But just as important, if Afghanistan fails, Pakistan could follow, because extremists will set their sights on the bigger prize to the east.

Yet, six years after we ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan is the forgotten war and the country is slipping toward failure: the Taliban is back; al Qaeda is regenerating along the border; violence is up; drug production is booming; and the Afghan people have little faith in the ability of their government to deliver a better future.

We've come to this point despite the heroic efforts of our soldiers and diplomats, who are often one and the same. Last week, we flew low over the border area. The mountains are as forbidding as they are spectacular. We visited a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Asadabad and two Forward Operating Bases nestled in the snow-filled valleys of Kunar Province.

We met with a regional governor and his team. We saw American men and women trying to fix Afghanistan one battle, one stretch of road, one clinic, one town council meeting at a time.

In all my trips to Iraq, and before that to the Balkans, I have never been prouder or more awed by what I saw. A young Lt. Colonel from Nebraska briefed us with extraordinary sensitivity about the clans, tribes, alliances and rivalries he was dealing with, and how he went about winning the trust of the people.

Soldiers spoke with as much conviction about a mission thrust upon them - rebuilding the country - as they did about their real job: fighting the enemy.

At the Forward Operating Base Naray, in a makeshift meeting room surrounded by rocks, mud and sandbags, but filled with flat screens and computers, the Two Star General traveling with us performed an impromptu award ceremony.

He gave the Bronze Star to a Corporal who had pulled a badly wounded gunner to safety, returned fire to repel the enemy and then kept his buddy alive until the Medavac arrived.

I know it sounds corny, but we all had tears in our eyes. But while we win every battle, we are not winning the war.

Why? Because we have not made Afghanistan the priority it should have been - and must become.

The original sin was starting a war of choice before we finished a war of necessity. We are paying a terrible price for diverting our forces and resources to Iraq from Afghanistan.

We can't undo that mistake. But we can remind ourselves of how central a political solution in Iraq is to our prospects for success in Afghanistan and, in turn, Pakistan.

And we must urgently revisit all three legs of our effort - security, reconstruction and counter-narcotics, and governance - to build a new strategy for success.

Let me start with security.

Defense Secretary Gates' recent decision to add 3,200 Marines is welcome but not enough. The American general commanding the Coalition forces in Afghanistan told us he could establish security in the south - where the Taliban has reestablished effective control and is especially aggressive - with two more American combat brigades.

That's about 10,000 troops.

But we can't generate them because they are tied down in Iraq. When General Petraeus testifies in April about what he needs in Iraq - I will insist that Congress also hear from his counterpart in Afghanistan about what he needs as well.

It's not just a matter of more boots on the ground, but the right kind, including special forces, intelligence assets and trainers.

This should not be America's fight alone. Our allies have as much at stake as we do. Since 9/11, Europe has been repeatedly targeted for terror and virtually every attack can be traced back to this region.

The heroin Afghanistan produces winds up in the streets of Madrid and Berlin - not New York. In fact, since 2001, far more Brits have lost their lives to Afghan drugs than to Taliban arms.

Many of our NATO allies thought they were signing up for a peacekeeping mission, not counter-insurgency operations.

Many are fighting with incredible bravery in the south. But the so-called "national caveats" are making a mockery of NATO - and the notion of a unified mission.

One ally can fight here - but not there. Another can do this - but not that. You're either in the fight - or you're not. It is time for NATO to be fully in the fight. I believe that the future of NATO is at stake - in Afghanistan.

If America does more, so will our allies.

When I first went to Afghanistan - right after the Taliban fell in January, 2002 - I asked the commander of the British forces how long his people and parliament would allow British troops to stay.

"As long as the big dog stays in the pen, the smaller dogs will stay," he replied.

Well, the big dog left the pen for Iraq - and we are paying a heavy price in Afghanistan. Now, if we start to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible conclusion. We can free up more forces and overcome what Secretary Gates rightly acknowledged: Lingering anger in Europe over Iraq has sapped political support for Afghanistan. And I might add, it has support here at home too.

Finally - we must double down on training. The Afghan Army is making progress. But the police lag disastrously far behind- at best, just 25 percent of the 75,000 member force is rated competent.

Ultimately, the goal must be to hand off policing and defense to effective Afghan forces. In Afghanistan - as in Iraq - there is no purely military solution.

The guts of our policy must be to win the allegiance of the Afghan people to a better future - and to help their government connect to the people and deliver on that future.

Helping Afghanistan become self-sustaining is a monumental task. It will take up to a decade - with more blood spilled - and more treasure spent.

But nothing compared to the blood and treasure we have already devoted to Iraq. There is no guarantee we will succeed.

Seventy percent of Afghanistan's population lives isolated from Kabul - and from each other - in the valleys, mountains and deserts.

Most are subsistence farmers. Corruption, warlords, illiteracy, endemic poverty and the drug trade are huge barriers to progress.

When the Taliban or a local warlord offers a young Afghan man money, food and guns to fight the foreigners or another clan and there is no alternative on the table, his choice is clear.

This raises a legitimate question: Why should America succeed where so many others before us failed?

Because - unlike previous "occupiers" - we can help offer Afghans a better choice.

First - we should make good on President Bush's unfulfilled pledge for a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan.

Let's put that in perspective. We have spent on Afghanistan's reconstruction in six years what we spend every three weeks on military operations in Iraq.

That cannot stand if we're serious about Afghanistan.

Second - focus on the basics. Roads and electricity. General Karl Eikenberry, who used to lead our forces in Afghanistan, liked to say, "the Taliban begins where the road ends."

As we observed on our trip - that is literally true.

Roads bind people together. They allow farmers to get products to market. They bring prices down and access to goods and services up - they connect people to their government.

How do you spell hope in Dari and Pashtu? A-S-P-H-A-L-T.

Third - expand the provincial reconstruction effort and gives those leading it the tools to succeed. One of the most effective weapons we have is something called CERP: The Commanders Emergency Response Program. It puts cash in the hands of our military - to start quick impact projects like digging a well, building a school or opening a clinic.

Of course, our military shouldn't be spearheading the reconstruction business. That's why Dick Lugar and I have been leading the effort in Congress to establish a Civilian Response Corps: a standing army of police trainers, judicial experts, engineers and administrators who can help build the capacity of countries emerging from conflict. But until they are on the job, our military will have to do the job. And they are very good at it.

Next - we should put one person in charge of reconstruction who can set a clear strategic direction, coordinate the many nations and NGOs involved, and break logjams. We had the right man in Paddy Ashdown - but the Afghan government vetoed his selection.

Next time I would make clear that if they want our money, they will take our man. Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's poppy. There is no quick fix to the drug problem. But right now, we do not even have an agreed strategy. Some in the administration insist forced eradication is the only answer. Whether they're right or wrong, no one else agrees, including our allies and the Karzai government. They fear that forcibly eradicating poppy without providing farmers an alternative will turn them to the Taliban.

I believe we should focus on arresting drug kingpins, disrupting supply routes and destroying the labs that convert poppy into heroin.

At a recent hearing, I asked how many kingpins have been arrested. The answer is zero.

Finally - governance. This is the most important and, too often, missing ingredient.

We spent a day in Kunar province. Just a year ago, the province was being mismanaged by an incompetent governor. But his successor - an educated, experienced, honest leader - has helped turn the province around. As good as he is, he told us his toughest challenge is connecting government to the people - with honest, effective managers and bureaucrats - who can deliver real progress.

It's not glamorous, but it is vitally necessary.


There is no real border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Durand line is just that - a line on a map that artificially divides tribes but cannot split mountains or the people who inhabit them. The border area between the countries remains a freeway of fundamentalism, with the Taliban and Al Qaeda now finding sanctuary on the Pakistan side and where the suicide bombers they recruit and train wreak growing havoc in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's cooperation in the fight against extremism is critical to success in Afghanistan - but that cooperation has been sporadic at best. The reason is that, until recently, the terrorists we're fighting and the extremists Pakistan fears were not one and the same.

Islamabad's main concern is indigenous militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Successive Pakistani governments have taken turns fighting them - appeasing them - playing one militant group against the other - or using them to make trouble in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

This different focus is why President Musharraf could divert Pakistan's resources from fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban to keeping his political opponents at bay. It's why - when Musharraf concluded that we were not serious about finishing the job in Afghanistan - he began to cut deals with extremists in Pakistan.

It's why Pakistan could concentrate most of its military might on the Indian border, not the Afghan border. It's why the Pakistani people have not supported what we call the war on terrorism.

But now, the monster Pakistan's Intelligence Services helped create is turning on its master. Today's enemy number one is Baitullah Mehsud - an indigenous militant - who is taking the fight beyond the FATA, and is likely behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Mehsud is independent of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan - but he is giving them sanctuary and they are training his forces. As Islamabad awakens to this new reality, there is an opportunity to put Pakistan - Afghanistan - and the United States on the same strategic page.

Some argue that, imperfect as Musharraf has been, the civilian leaders that last week's elections returned to power will be even worse partners in fighting terrorism and fostering real progress in Pakistan.

I disagree. John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and I were in Lahore on election day.

We visited polling places and met with the leaders of all the major parties. The election passed the most important test: the Pakistani people saw its results as basically fair and a reflection of the national will. For Pakistan, nothing is more important than giving the moderate majority a clear voice and stake in the system. Without that, dissent gets channeled underground and, over time, moderates make common cause with extremists.

We've been down that road before - in Iran - and it leads nowhere good. In the case of Pakistan, it could lead to disaster: the world's second largest Muslim nation becoming a failed state in fundamentalist hands with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and a population of 165 million - larger than Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea combined.

With this election, the moderate majority has regained its voice.

The United States should seize the moment to move from a policy focused on a personality - Musharraf - to one based on an entire country - Pakistan.

I believe we should:

* Triple non-military assistance, sustain it for a decade, and focus it on schools, roads and clinics.
* Give the new government a democracy dividend above this annual assistance to jump start progress.
* Expand the program to help Islamabad develop the northwest provinces.
* Demand transparency and accountability in the military aid we continue to provide.

We have been "reimbursing" Pakistan to the tune of $1 billion a year - for a war on terrorism it has not really waged.

That must stop.

We should pay for costs genuinely incurred in fighting the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their affiliates, but we shouldn't let our reimbursement continue to be an unaccountable slush-fund.

At the same time, we have to recognize that even as Pakistan develops the will - it still lacks the way. Its military is designed to fight a conventional war with India - not conduct counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas.

So we should make it a priority to help Pakistan train and reorganize its military.

If we do all this, we can demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that ours is a partnership of mutual conviction - not American convenience, that we care about their needs and progress not just our own interests, narrowly defined.

That happens to be the best way to secure the support of the people and their democratically elected leaders, for our priorities, starting with the fight against Al Qaeda and the fight for Afghanistan.

If Afghanistan fails or Pakistan falls prey to fundamentalism, both countries will pay a heavy price. And America will suffer a terrible strategic setback.

I believe it is still within our power to shape a different, better future.

We have no more urgent priority.

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