Washington D.C.House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith provided the following statement for today’s hearing on Afghanistan:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I would like to thank General Campbell for appearing here today.  While it is no longer in the daily news and while our mission in Afghanistan may no longer be a combat mission, our involvement in that country is not over and it is still an important issue.

We have made significant progress towards achieving our goals in Afghanistan to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent its return to Afghanistan.  We have eliminated much of the leadership of the old al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, and they can no longer find safe haven in Afghanistan.  Our forces, with the help of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) pushed the Taliban out of the south and southwest of Afghanistan.  We built up the ANSF so that they were able to take over the responsibility for conducting combat operations, and transitioned our own efforts to a Train, Advise, and Assist mission with a parallel counter-terrorism mission.  This represents a substantial step towards ultimate success in Afghanistan.

For their part, the Afghans have also made substantial progress.  In the last year, they experienced a successful, and peaceful, transition of power.  This transition, it should also be noted, brought to office a government that, while not without internal conflict, represents a 180-degree turn around from the government that preceded it. For that, Chief Executive Abdullah and President Ghani deserve our thanks, and I am sure I am not the only member here who looks forward to the opportunity to express that thanks when President Ghani visits Washington later this month.

For now, the question before us is how to best support the efforts of the Afghans, the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and the international community as they work to solidify the gains we have made.  Significant challenges remain—for example, just yesterday the New York Times reported about substantial losses in the ANSF from both combat and desertion.  While the Afghan Army has made substantial progress in combat operations, substantial gaps remain in their ability to maintain and support their forces and equipment and provide enabling capabilities.  The Afghan National Police lag the Army in these areas.  For years, the United States has provided mentors, enablers, and contract support to deal with these shortcomings while trying to build the capability in the ANSF.  One question for General Campbell is if we have built enough capability that we can leave the Afghans to deal with these problems or if we will have to continue some form of support in the future.

For my part, I support increased flexibility in the pace of drawdown of our troops.  To me, the key point was getting the Afghan forces in the lead for security and getting the vast majority of our forces out of direct ground combat.  If increased flexibility, the provision of some enablers, mentoring, and the provision of other support outside combat will help the Afghans become more effective and better enable them to deal with our common problems—al Qaeda and the Taliban—then I think we should definitely consider doing just that.  Staying in Afghanistan forever is unnecessary and counterproductive, but some flexibility in the pace of the drawdown of the last ten thousand troops seems to make a lot of sense.

We do not have to build a perfect Afghanistan.  Instead, our mission is to eliminate the remnants of al Qaeda that are hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan and help the Afghans build an Afghanistan that can fight the Taliban on their own and prevent al Qaeda or other international terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven.  We have not yet completely succeeded in these goals, but we’ve made a lot of progress and we owe our men and women in uniform, the intelligence community, our diplomats and others in the State Department, and the Afghan people and government a round of thanks for their contributions.  Our task now is to figure out how to cement the gains we’ve made and support future progress.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and I would also like to again thank General Campbell for appearing here today.