Contact: Josh Holly (202) 226-3988
Washington D.C. –Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, today released the following opening statement from the House Armed Services Committee’s hearing regarding the security and stability efforts in Afghanistan:
“Thank you to my good friend, Ike Skelton, and welcome to our witnesses — outside experts who specialize in Afghanistan’s security and stability. I am pleased to note that this panel includes the honorable Ali Jalali, Afghanistan’s former Minister of the Interior, who will be able to offer a unique perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing his nation. We look forward to your testimony.
“This hearing comes at a critical time in both Afghan history and in the conduct of the multinational mission there. Since coalition forces began operations in 2001, the situation on the ground has proven dynamic, to say the least. One area of great importance – to security and stability, to the economy, and to the day-to-day lives of the Afghan people – has been the continued dependence on poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking.
“According to all accounts, the 2006 poppy crop was among the highest – if not the highest – ever produced in Afghanistan. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated that the amount of land dedicated to poppy crops increased 61 percent from 2005 to 2006. Poppy production in Afghanistan increased more than 26 percent. In the relatively violent provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan, production increased 132 percent. In looking at recent plantings, some Afghan officials predict that next year’s yield could easily rival the 2006 crop.
“We all know that any livelihood based on the illicit drug trade is unstable. Yet Afghan farmers, under the influence of narco-traffickers, persist in growing poppies to ensure their families’ immediate survival.
“The international community – including agencies within the United States government – needs to take a long, hard look at what alternative livelihood programs are available. We need to work with the Afghan people to cultivate a long-term solution that allows them to replace illicit poppy fields with perennial crops that are suitable for domestic consumption and for export – for example, fruit and nut trees. Because such replacement crops may take a while to become profitable, we also need to implement short-term aid programs that allow for subsistence, as well as the necessary infrastructure improvements to help farmers get their products to market.
“Some people may well ask what alternative livelihood programs have to do with stability and security. To those people, I point out the importance of developing and maintaining an economy rooted in a reliable, legal, and sustainable basis that can provide jobs and put food on the table – not one that encourages drug addiction and puts every crop at risk of eradication every year.
“This morning our committee focuses its attention on the opportunities and challenges for achieving lasting security and stability in Afghanistan – realizing this aspiration is important to the American people, this committee, and the more than 21,000 U.S. servicemembers who are now serving so honorably in Afghanistan today.
“These U.S. military men and women serve within NATO, through the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan, and alongside Afghan National Security forces and other participating coalitional partners. It is also noteworthy to recognize that in October 2006, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force took over primary security responsibility for Afghanistan and for the first time in its history, NATO is leading a major military operation outside of Europe.
“Last week, after recently visiting the region and speaking to military commanders on the ground, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates extended 3,200 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division for 120 days, demonstrating that the United States remains committed to securing Afghanistan – including suppressing the anticipated spring Taliban-led insurgency; training and equipping Afghan National Security Forces; and assisting reconstruction efforts through the 25 Provisional Reconstruction Teams.
“Despite notable progress and these recent initiatives to ensure Afghanistan’s long-term success, a lot of work remains to be done. Afghanistan and all its partners must cut off any resurgence of Taliban influence and possible Taliban-led insurgency in the spring. The issue of poppy cultivation and trafficking must also be tackled – from accelerating eradication to presenting alternative livelihoods to pursuing an aggressive law enforcement campaign.
“These are difficult challenges, but we must stay committed and we must continue to build upon on the hard-won achievements already made by Americans, Afghans, and coalition partners who realize that long-term security, stability and development in Afghanistan is worth our collective fight and sacrifice. During today’s hearing, I hope we hear how we can help advance our joint effort in Afghanistan.”