Washington D.C.House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following statement at today’s hearing on recent developments in Afghanistan:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today.  General Allen, Acting Under Secretary Miller, thank you for your efforts and long service on behalf of our nation.

“We have made significant progress in achieving our goal in Afghanistan to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent its return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan.”  The death of Osama bin Laden and the elimination of much of al Qaeda’s senior leadership over the last few years has made America safer.  On the ground in Afghanistan, our military, with our ISAF and Afghan partners, has done tremendous work, particularly over the last couple of years, to push the Taliban out of the south and southwest of Afghanistan.  I congratulate our witnesses for their part in these achievements.  The progress made to date has gone a long way to better position the Afghan government, and the Afghan people, for success.

“We should be under no illusions, however. Being in a better position in Afghanistan is still finding yourself in a very difficult spot.  Afghanistan is a poor country, with an uneducated population, plagued by groups that use violence to achieve their goals, and with a government that is often both incompetent and corrupt.  Fortunately, our mission there is not to build a perfect Afghanistan, but solely to help build an Afghanistan that is capable of denying the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies a safe place to operate.

“As we consider our strategy over the next several years, it is my belief that it is time to lean forward on transitioning the responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan government.  This is happening now—after the latest tranche of provinces and districts are transitioned, over 50% of the Afghan population will reside areas where the Afghan army and police are in the lead to provide security.  Similarly, all around Afghanistan, U.S. military units partnered with Afghan units are allowing the Afghan units to increasingly take the lead in planning and leading operations while the U.S. units increasingly act in support.  I believe we need to look for ways to push this process to go as quickly as we can safely do so.

“If there is one demonstrable historical truth, it is that foreign forces in Afghanistan are destabilizing over time.  Our troops are doing tremendous work on behalf of the Afghan people, but no people would be happy with over 130,000 foreign troops carrying out combat operations in their country.  Increased friction and tension are almost unavoidable, and we have seen some of the results of that with the increase in killing of coalition forces by members of the ANSF and the recent riots over the accidental burning of the Koran.  Over time the presence of so many foreign troops will also undermine the legitimacy of the Afghan government that relies on them.  We have seen, and are seeing, the impact of this pressure as well—President Karzai’s recent comments attacking the United States, while unfortunate and misguided, almost certainly reflect the domestic pressure under which he finds himself as his people come to resent the presence of a foreign army.  In turn, this pressure and the resulting comments reduce the reliability of President Karzai as a partner. 

 “The solution to this dilemma, that over time our large scale presence will have diminishing returns, is simple—we should accelerate the plans we have already made.  The NATO Lisbon Conference of 2010 laid out a realistic plan for transition.  Our challenge now is to look for ways to implement it as fast as we responsibly can. 

“Our troops and their civilian counterparts from other parts of the government have done a great job.  With their Afghan and ISAF partners, they’ve largely driven the Taliban from the south and southwest of Afghanistan and allowed the opportunity for local governance to take root.  Across the country, violence levels are down.  U.S. and ISAF forces have built the Afghan National Security Forces from an anemic 155,000 in November of 2008 to about 330,000 now and a planned level of 352,000 this October.  Al Qaeda has been driven from Afghanistan and their senior leadership has been decimated in Pakistan. This is amazing work.  But after ten years of war, and great cost to both the American and Afghan people, it is time to find additional ways to put the Afghans in charge of their own fate as quickly as we responsibly can and bring our troops home.”