U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement today at a joint hearing of the Middle East and North Africa and Asia and the Pacific Subcommittees titled: "After the Withdrawal: The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Part 1)."
Opening Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
"Before I begin my remarks, I would like to convey my deepest condolences to the family and friends of U.S. Army Captain Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel of South Florida, who was killed in action on March 11, 2013, while serving our country in Afghanistan.
Our thoughts and our prayers are with his friends and family.
Last month, in his State of the Union address to the Nation, President Obama announced that the United States will be drawing down our forces in Afghanistan by 34,000 troops over the coming year, and projecting that our military presence in Afghanistan will be over before the start of 2015.
The President also announced that our forces will transition into a support role -- handing the reigns over to the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), while our focus will be mainly on training and equipping these forces.
Reports indicate a remaining residual force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops, while many military commanders continue to push for a more robust role, including the Commander of U.S. Central Command who recommended that nearly 14,000 troops to be left behind post-2014.
The way forward may be debatable, but we should agree that decisions must not be made for political reasons.
Leaving before stability is assured would not only unravel all that we have worked so hard to accomplish in Afghanistan, but it would undermine the efforts of our men and women who have served so bravely and have sacrificed so much in Afghanistan -- like the before mentioned Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel.
Without the proper infrastructure, training and support from U.S. and international forces, Afghanistan runs the risk of plunging into chaos.
The national security interests of the United States and indeed of our allies are at stake because of the real threat that the Taliban could retake power and al-Qaeda could re-establish a safe haven from which to conduct operations.
Many allies are worried that the draw down could lead to a significant increase in violence and terrorist related activities that can further destabilize the conflict.
Most see Karzai as an unpredictable leader yet they are concerned about his possible successor.
The U.S. must hold Karzai accountable for the lack of transparency for the corruption problems that need to be corrected to ensure a successful transition to a viable successor.
Afghan elections are within a year and electoral reforms are needed to ensure a free, fair and transparent election that protects human rights and respects minority groups.
Karzai's recent actions reveal that he is attempting to play a dangerous but calculated game aimed at appeasing certain Afghan factions by vilifying the United States.
Karzai accused us of working hand in hand with the Taliban to spread violence in Afghanistan.
These inflammatory comments put the lives of our service men and women in danger.
The Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan warned our troops that Karzai's "remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces he may also issue orders that put our forces at risk.
Karzai yearns to be known as the one who kicked out the foreign invaders and he fears that he will suffer the same fate as previous Afghan leaders before him who were overrun or executed by the Taliban.
This would open the flood gates from Pakistan, a country which has long been an insurgency sanctuary for the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and other extremist elements.
Pakistan must do more to prevent extremists from using its areas as a staging point for attacks against the United States and our allies in Afghanistan.
We must make an honest assessment of our relationship with Pakistan, and judge its willingness and capacity to work with us in order to ensure that Afghanistan does not succumb to the Islamist and extremist threat.
Pakistan must also do its part by eliminating its ties to foreign terrorist organizations.
We must reevaluate our relationship with Islamabad if we are going to continue to provide billions of dollars of taxpayer money to Pakistan.
Pakistan's stability remains a vital U.S. national security interest and our relationship is paramount in order to fight regional and global terrorism, to stabilize Afghanistan, and to protect long-term national security interests.