This week, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement at a joint subcommittee hearing entitled “The President’s Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan: Objectives and Resources”:
Finally, the third time is the charm – after running into hurricanes from Mother Nature and an emergency tax reform retreat the first two times that we scheduled this hearing, I’m glad that we can all finally convene this important and timely hearing. I thank our witnesses for their patience and willingness to work with us and coordinate our schedules so that we can make this hearing finally happen.
So without further ado, we have officially kicked off our budget hearing for Afghanistan and Pakistan in an effort to examine the new strategy the president announced two and a half months ago. What I think many of us are interested in hearing is exactly what the details are in this strategy – how will it be implemented, what are the benchmarks for measuring success, how the ;president intends to use the resources available to implement this new strategy. What I did hear when the strategy was rolled out was a clear and decisive message that the United States is resolved to win – to defeat terror – and that we will not focus on artificial timelines for withdrawal.
I think that’s the approach we should be taking, reversing our previous message to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and others that they can simply wait us out because we had already pre-determined when we would leave. But we haven’t seen or heard how we plan on doing this. We do know that this comes with an undefined and open-ended financial commitment by the United States – as we saw earlier this week when the administration sent up an amendment to the budget request for additional resources to support 3,500 more troops.
I also don’t see how we can defeat these groups without the support of Pakistan. I know the president put an emphasis on Pakistan needing to demonstrate its commitment to civilization, to order, to peace, but the strategy was lacking on details on how we are going to get Pakistan to reverse course. Pakistan needs to quit hedging its bets and get fully on board with the U.S. and Afghanistan. But the strategy was short on details on exactly what tools we will use, and how, to convince Pakistan that its interests align with what we aim to achieve in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the correct move. Following her trip to Pakistan with Secretary Tillerson, Ambassador Wells – welcome to you – stated that the administration “laid out some very specific expectations of how Pakistan can help create the conditions that will help bring the Taliban to the table.” I hope to hear some of those specific expectations, not just on bringing the Taliban to the table, but to address the use of Pakistan territory as terror safe havens.
I support the president’s determination to integrate all elements of American power – diplomatic, military, economic and political – to protect our interests and achieve our objectives. Particularly when it comes to leaning on our partners and allies to share the financial burden and to provide more troops. A safe, secure and stable Afghanistan, free from terror groups is in all of our interests.
The United States should not be relied upon to bear the full burden – others must to contribute to our mutual success. But right now I just don’t see that willingness from our partners – especially when it comes to contributing more troops to NATO’s mission – and I think the administration hasn’t quite gone into detail on how we can get this support.
I’m also concerned that the new strategy isn’t as clear when it comes to our commitment to Afghanistan’s future and the U.S.-Afghan relationship. Since 2002, we have made a concerted effort to support and empower women in Afghanistan, and in recent years, we have seen that support start to be realized. Dr. Bera and I had the honor and privilege to host First Lady Ghani, former First Lady Bush, and members of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council for a meeting with our Committee Members and Members of the Caucus for Women’s Issues last week in the Capitol. What we heard was that the United States has helped build a foundation for women and girls that has improved their lives. But now what we need is to take that to the next level – to build on previous successes, achieved in large part to the work of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, help them scale up and meet long-term challenges. Women will have an important role to play in Afghanistan’s future and I hope to hear how our new strategy will leverage that to achieve greater success.
The president clearly defined winning as: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping terror attacks against America. But what is the strategy in which to do this? What is our plan for addressing the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan – we didn’t hear anything in the new strategy regarding Iran’s military and financial support for the Taliban – or Qatar’s continued support for the Taliban and likely other terror groups in the region.
The president also said that we will work with the Afghan government only as long as we see determination and we see progress, that our commitment is not unlimited and that our support is not a blank check and that the American people expect to see real reforms. I’m not sure that these are both on the same timeline and I’m not sure that we can achieve our goals without supporting the Afghan government.
I’m also greatly concerned with what I see as a tragic and dangerous retreat when it comes to our coutnernarcotics efforts in Afghanistan. The president’s request for Fiscal Year ‘18 was nearly half of our actual expenditures on these operations in 2016. ISIS, al-Qaeda, and so many others finance their operations in large part through their illicit activity, most notably through the money they raise from drug trafficking. We cannot just defeat these terror groups kinetically, we need to take out their revenue streams. Without a commitment to counternarcotics, I don’t see how we can totally defeat these groups.
There are ideas in this new strategy that many of us can fully support, but we need to hear details on how we will achieve our objectives, and we need to know what benchmarks the administration is going to use to measure success. I hope to hear some of that from our patient panel today and how the president’s budget request will be leveraged to achieve our goals and fulfill this new strategy.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the first woman to lead the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, was first elected to Congress in 1989. She announced earlier this year that she will not run again in 2018.