Statement of Senator Carl Levin at the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–December 8, 2009.  The following is the opening statement as prepared for delivery by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for the committee hearing on strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and General Stanley A. McChrystal.

Today, the Committee hears from U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force. Let me begin by thanking you both, on behalf of the Committee, for your repeated and continuing service to the country, and thanks to your families for their continued support of the task you’ve accepted. Please also convey our thanks to the troops and civilians you lead, and their families, for their extraordinary service.

General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry are charged with executing a civilian-military plan of action to implement the strategy that the President announced last week. His plan emphasizes protecting the Afghan people, consistent with the recommendations in General McChrystal’s assessment, and includes military and civilian actions with the goal, according to Secretary Gates, “to clear, hold, build, and transfer” security responsibility to the Afghans.

Key elements of the President’s plan for going forward in Afghanistan include: first, training, equipping, and partnering with the Afghan National Security Forces to empower them to provide for Afghanistan’s security. Second, the President has called for rapidly deploying an additional 30,000 U.S. soldiers over the coming months – likely to be joined by at least 7,000 additional soldiers from our NATO and other allies participating in the Afghanistan mission. Third, the President has directed that a reduction of U.S. forces will begin in July 2011, with the pace and location of troop reductions to be determined by conditions on the ground.

Our “Achilles’ heel” in Afghanistan, in the words of one Marine company commander, is not a shortage of U.S. troops – it’s a shortage of Afghan troops. To succeed in Afghanistan it is important that we have adequate Afghan partners in combat operations, and that after a town or village is cleared of Taliban, the security forces left to maintain order are Afghan forces.

In the key province of Helmand, the ratio of U.S. troops to Afghan troops is about five U.S. troops to one Afghan soldier. The desired ratio should be much different: one Afghan company to one U.S. company at the beginning of partnering, leading to three Afghan companies for every one U.S. company as training of Afghan troops progresses. Currently, the 10,000 U.S. Marines in Helmand have approximately 1,500 Afghan soldiers and 700 Afghan police – just over 2,000 combined Afghan security forces – with whom to partner. Doubling the number of U.S. troops in the south, without a much larger increase in available Afghan troops, will only worsen a ratio under which our forces are already matched up with fewer Afghan troops than they can and should partner with.

The limited availability of Afghan forces to partner with raises a troubling question: why aren’t there more Afghan forces in the fight? By most accounts, Afghan soldiers are good fighters, are motivated, and are well respected by the Afghan people. Yet, there were recent news reports that the Afghan Army soldiers in Helmand were declining to go on some missions because they said that they were not there to fight, but “to rest.” Last week, Secretary Clinton was reported as saying “We’ve got to bring the Afghan security forces into the fight.” According to the latest numbers from the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, there are currently some 95,000 Afghan soldiers trained. Of this force, there are 80 combat battalions. About half of those are listed as capable of independent operations or of leading operations with coalition support. But last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen said in an interview that “there aren’t that many [Afghan soldiers] that are in the lead; there are very few.” I hope our witnesses this afternoon can give us the ground truth as to how many Afghan soldiers and police are present for duty and now partnered with U.S. combat troops in the fight, and how many Afghan units are in the lead in combat operations anywhere.

In addition to the Afghan National Security Forces, there is a Community Defense Initiative, which appears to be an Afghan version of the Sons of Iraq. I hope our witnesses will describe this Initiative, and discuss its strengths and weaknesses.

I understand the President has directed his military commanders not to begin clearing an area unless our troops will be able to turn that area over to Afghan security forces. What our witnesses can clarify is at what point in the “clear, hold, build, and transfer” process the Afghan forces will take over responsibility for an area’s security. Is the plan that we hold? Do the Afghans hold? Do we hold together? As Marine Corps Commandant General Conway recently pointed out, it isn’t nearly as effective to have U.S. Marines standing on street corners in Afghan villages as it is to have an Afghan policeman or soldier. I agree U.S. troops should not be left for months holding street corners in villages recently cleared of Taliban, waiting for Afghan security forces to take over that mission.

Increasing the number of U.S. forces acting without sufficient Afghan partners will feed Taliban propaganda that portrays U.S. forces in Afghanistan as occupiers and could lead to greater instead of lesser Afghan dependency upon us.

The President’s strategy also makes clear that our commitment to the future of Afghanistan requires action on the part of the Government of Afghanistan to fight corruption, deliver services, institute policies for reintegration of local Taliban fighters, and address other urgent problems. President Karzai has pledged to do these things, and President Obama rightly insists on holding him to that pledge. Setting the July 2011 date to begin reductions of our forces is a reasonable way to impart to the Government of Afghanistan a sense of focus and urgency, something that has been lacking up to now and is essential to success, theirs and ours. President Karzai has acknowledged the value of the July 2011 date, saying “it’s good that we are facing a deadline” and that the Afghan people “must begin to stand on our own feet.” I would like to hear from our witnesses whether they support and agree with the President’s decision to establish the July 2011 date to begin a U.S. troop reduction.