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

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank General Dunford for appearing here today.  We truly appreciate your years of service.

“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 decimation of al Qaeda’s senior leadership over the last few years at the hands of our brave men and women of our military and intelligence services have 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 and to vastly increase the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces.  The progress made to date has gone a long way to better position the Afghan government, and the Afghan people, for success.

“We shouldn’t, however, underestimate the challenges facing the Afghan people.  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, I believe that the President has struck the right balance by announcing the redeployment of 34,000 American troops over the next year but allowing this to happen at a pace that offers enough support to the ANSF as they continue to take over responsibility for security.  Right now over 87% of the population of Afghanistan lives in areas where the Afghan National Security Forces are responsible for security and later this spring, the Afghan Army and police will be in the lead to provide security for the entirety of Afghanistan.  Over the last year, we saw Afghan units, partnered with American units, increasingly take the lead in planning and leading operations while the U.S. units acted in support, even to the point where the Afghan forces independently planned, led, conducted, and supplied corps level operations.  We must continue to look for ways to push, and support, this process to go as quickly as we can safely do so.

“I continue to believe 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 tens of thousands of foreign troops carrying out combat operations indefinitely in their country.  Increased friction and tension are almost unavoidable, and we have seen that over time.  Over time the presence of so many foreign troops will also undermine any sense of legitimacy of the Afghan government, and yet the legitimacy of that very government in the eyes of the Afghan government is a critical component to any long term solution in Afghanistan.  We have seen, and are seeing, the impact of this pressure as well—President Karzai’s decision to ban U.S. special forces from one province of Afghanistan and the recent dispute over detentions,  are cases where this perceived domestic pressure on his legitimacy resulted in counter-productive actions.

 “The solution to this dilemma, that over time our large scale presence will have diminishing returns, is simple and the President has laid it out—reducing our forces by half over the next year and moving from a combat mission to one of supporting the ANSF while we also conduct counterterrorism operations.  The challenge now is to consider how we best transition to an enduring posture in Afghanistan and to best protect our interests in that country.  How do we, for example, help support and encourage the development of the real legitimacy of the Afghan government, which in turn will help bring the insurgency to a close?  How do we best posture ourselves to be able to continue to prosecute the fight against al Qaeda?  What level of funding and support will the ANSF require over the next several years?  How can we continue to support the Pakistanis in their fight against extremists that threaten their stability while pressuring them to do more in the fight against terrorists and insurgents who threaten the Afghans and our troops there?

“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 352,000 now.  Al Qaeda has been driven from Afghanistan and their senior leadership has been decimated in Pakistan. This is amazing work.  But after eleven 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, albeit with our training and support, and bring our combat mission against the insurgency in Afghanistan to an end.”