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 on security and stability operations in Afghanistan:
“Thank you to my good friend, Ike Skelton, and welcome to our witnesses, especially Lt. General Karl Eikenberry. Your dedicated service and leadership as the Commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan proved valuable to our brave U.S. military men and women serving honorably in Afghanistan. I look forward to hearing your on-the-ground assessment of what the United States, Afghanistan, NATO and our coalition partners need to continue and build on, as well as your perspective on what needs to be done to ensure security and stability for the Afghan people. We look forward to all of your testimony.
“Over the last six years, coalition and Afghan officials have made significant progress in Afghanistan. I recognize, though, there is still much to be done. For example, Afghanistan’s continued dependence on poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking pose a serious threat to long-term security and stability. U.S. government officials and experts agree that last year was the highest poppy yield ever produced in Afghanistan – resulting in nearly 6,100 metric tons of opium – an amount likely to be repeated in 2007 if we do not address the situation promptly and comprehensively. It is also my understanding that Afghanistan’s poppy production and narcotics trade provides for about one-third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and likely finances some of the violent activities of the Taliban-led insurgents.
“Today, I hope that you will address this issue and specifically what the United Stated, Afghanistan, NATO and other coalition partners are doing to address the narcotics problem in Afghanistan.
“One possible solution is focused on alternative livelihoods for the Afghan farmers. This solution centers on orchard plantings and could offer a viable, legitimate and long-term answer to a growing problem. While plantings may take time to put in place, orchards yield crops that are typically higher in value and once established, orchards offer the Afghan farmer an annual crop, earning a dependable and legal source of income to support his family. I would appreciate your thoughts on this proposal.
“I am also interested in better understanding how the United States and our coalition partners are working within the local traditions of Afghan society such as the “loya jirgas” to encourage participation in alternative livelihoods. It is likely a good investment of time and energy to work across the provinces with local community leaders who have connections and influence with the Afghan people – particularly in those areas where poppy is being cultivated at the highest levels.
“At today’s hearing, the committee focuses its attention to assessing ongoing security and stability efforts in Afghanistan and recent developments in U.S. strategy and operations. There are over 25,000 dedicated U.S. military service members in Afghanistan – half of whom are serving in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). On October 2006, ISAF assumed responsibility for military operations and reconstruction efforts throughout Afghanistan. This international military presence in the country is significant, and the United States continues to carry the bulk of the international burden – from supplying the majority of combat forces to training and equipping the Afghan Security Forces.
“Last week, the Secretary of Defense met with his NATO counterparts in Spain. This meeting came after the United States extended 3,200 troops from the 10th Mountain Division in an effort to take the offensive against the expected Taliban-led insurgency in Spring 2007, and after the President submitted his annual budget to Congress, requesting $8.6 billion to accelerate the training and equipping of the Afghan Security Forces and $2 billion for reconstruction and development efforts.
“It is my understanding that a primary topic of discussion in Spain was NATO’s support to Afghanistan and the need for our allies to strengthen their commitments for a secure and stable Afghanistan – including more troops, fewer caveats, and increased financial contributions. It may be too early to tell the outcome of last week’s discussions but I am very interested in your views of NATO nations’ level of effort in Afghanistan and your views on how the United States is working with our NATO allies to share military and reconstruction responsibilities more equitably.
“Today’s hearing comes at a time when the United States along with our coalition partners is engaged in a Global War on Terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are two central fronts of this long, complex war. Our recent experiences in Afghanistan illustrate that winning this war and achieving a security and stability are not dependent on military might alone. They require an adaptable approach that integrates diplomatic, economic and political efforts as well as an international unity of effort.”