Washington, DC – In a strongly worded letter to President Bush, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) stated that “we must once again make Afghanistan our number one priority – our national security and Afghanistan’s future are at stake.”  Skelton said, “We must reprioritize and shift needed resources from Iraq to Afghanistan.”

The text of Skelton’s letter to the President is copied below:

June 19, 2008

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

 For too long, our efforts in Iraq have overshadowed the war in Afghanistan.  The genesis of the 9/11 attack was in Afghanistan and any future attack on our homeland is likely to originate in Afghanistan or in the border region with Pakistan.  Afghanistan needs additional resources to succeed, but this is unlikely to be made available while we remain in Iraq in large numbers. We must re-prioritize and shift needed resources from Iraq to Afghanistan.  We must once again make Afghanistan our number one priority—our national security and Afghanistan’s future are at stake.

 It is very telling that the outgoing Commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Army General Dan McNeill, just delivered a sober assessment of the situation in Afghanistan.  He reported that in April attacks increased 50 percent in the country's eastern region, where U.S. troops primarily operate, as a spreading Taliban insurgency across the border in Pakistan fueled the surge in violence.  This comes as violence continues to rage in the south.  It is troubling to learn that hundreds of Taliban fighters recently took control of numerous villages near Kandahar only days after a prison break at a Kandahar jail, in which it appears over 1,000 prisoners, including Taliban fighters, escaped.  

 At the same time, commanders in Afghanistan have said they are short 3 battalions.  The Afghan National Security Forces continue to be plagued by problems, including a shortage of about 3,000 trainers and mentors.  Afghanistan’s opium trade continues to flourish and fuel the insurgency. Economic development continues to lag.  Official corruption is still widespread.  The authority of the central government remains limited.  And safe havens in Pakistan continue to thrive, at a time when internal instability in that country has been on the rise. 

 I believe that the effort in Afghanistan is still winnable, but we cannot underestimate the challenges in all these areas.  These challenges must be handled more effectively.  Since 2002, the U.S. has provided about $16.5 billion to develop the Afghan National Security Forces.  Yet only two Afghan National Army units and no Afghan National Police units are fully capable.  Although some NATO countries have made important contributions in Afghanistan, and their military forces have been involved in heavy combat and endured losses, our NATO allies and partners must certainly do more.  This is not only critical to security and stability in Afghanistan but to the future of the NATO alliance.  However, the U.S. must lead by example.  We cannot expect our allies to step up if the U.S. itself does not demonstrate a strong commitment to the success of the Afghanistan mission.  The U.S. and the international community must make the war in Afghanistan an urgent top priority and fully commit the necessary leadership, strategy and resources to the cause. 

 I deeply appreciate your consideration of my views.

Very truly yours,