U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Opening Remarks Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
December 2, 2009

(1:50 p.m. EST)

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, members of the Committee. I’m grateful for this opportunity to testify today, and I also want to acknowledge the leader of one of our very strong allies, the prime minister of Hungary, who the Chairman has recognized and to whom we show our appreciation.

Yesterday, President Obama presented the Administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, we will be answering your questions and providing additional details. But let me speak briefly at a more personal level about why we are making this commitment. Simply put, among a range of difficult choices, we believe this is the best way to protect our nation now and in the future. The extremists we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan have attacked us and our allies before. If we allow them access to the very same safe havens they used before 2001, they will have a greater capacity to regroup and attack again. They could drag an entire region into chaos.

Our civilian and military leaders in Afghanistan have reported that the situation is serious and worsening, and we agree. In the aftermath of September 11th, I grieved with sons, daughters, husbands and wives, those whose loved ones were murdered. It was an attack on our country. It was, at the time, an attack on my constituents. And I witnessed the tragic consequences in the lives of thousands of innocent families, the damage done to our economy, and our sense of security. So I feel a personal responsibility to help protect our nation from such violence.

The case for action against al-Qaida and its allies has always been clear, but the United States’ course of action over the last eight years has not. The fog of another war obscured our focus. And while our attention was focused elsewhere, the Taliban gained momentum in Afghanistan and the extremist threat grew in Pakistan, a country with 175 million people, a nuclear arsenal, and more than its share of challenges. It was against this backdrop that the President called for a careful, thorough review of our strategy. I was very proud to be a part of that process, and our objectives are clear.

We will work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments to eliminate safe havens for those plotting attacks against us, our allies, and our interests. We will help to stabilize a region that is fundamental to our national security. And we will develop long-term, sustainable relationships with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The duration of our military presence may be limited, but our civilian commitment must continue even as our troops will begin to come home.

Now, accomplishing this mission and ensuring the safety of the American people will not be easy. It will mean sending more civilians, more troops, and more assistance to Afghanistan, and significantly expanding our civilian efforts in Pakistan. And the men and women carrying out this mission, both civilian and military alike, are not just statistics on a PowerPoint slide. They are our friends and neighbors, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, and we will be asking them and the American people who support them to make extraordinary sacrifices once again. I want to assure this Committee we will do everything they can to make sure their sacrifices make our nation safer.

The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is serious, but it is not, in my view, as negative as frequently portrayed in public. The beginning of President Karzai’s second term has opened a new window of opportunity. We do have real concerns about the influence of corrupt officials in the Afghan Government and we will continue to pursue them. But in his inauguration speech last month, which I attended, I witnessed President Karzai call for a new compact – a new compact with his country and a new compact with the international community. He pledged to continue to work with us and he pledged to combat corruption, improve governance, and deliver for the people of his country. His words were long in coming, but they were welcome. They now must be matched with action, and we intend to hold the Afghan Government accountable.

We will work with our Afghan partners to strengthen institutions at every level of society. The President has outlined a timeframe for transition to Afghan responsibility. As he said in his speech last evening, the additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

A timeframe for transition will provide a sense of urgency in working with the Afghan Government, but it should be clear to everyone that the United States, our allies, and our partners will have an enduring commitment, a civilian commitment to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Our resolve in this fight is reflected in the substantial new increase in troops, but also in the significant civilian surge that will also accompany it.

The civilian effort is bearing fruit. Civilian experts and advisors are helping to craft policy inside government ministries, providing development assistance in the field, and when our marines went into Nawa province this last July, we had civilians on the ground with them to coordinate assistance the very next day. As our operations progress, our civ-mil coordination will grow even stronger. We are on track to triple the number of civilian positions to 974 by early in January. On average, each of these civilians leverages 10 partners ranging from locally employed staff to experts with U.S.-funded NGOs.

It’s a cliché to say that we have our best people in these jobs, but it also happens to be true. When I was in Kabul a few weeks ago, I met with an American colonel who told me that while he had thousands of outstanding soldiers under his command, none of them had the 40 years of agricultural experience of the USDA civilians serving alongside his battalion, or the rule of law and governance expertise of the civilian experts from the State Department. The colonel said to me, “I’m happy to supply whatever support these valuable civilians need, and we need more of them.”

That is part of our strategy, our combined civilian-military strategy. We will be delivering high-impact economic assistance and bolstering the agricultural sector. We will be helping to support an Afghan-led effort to open the door to those Taliban who renounce al-Qaida, abandon violence, and want to reintegrate into society. We know that regional diplomacy is essential and it will complement our approach. I will be going to Brussels tomorrow to work with our allies to obtain additional commitments of troops and civilian aid.

We also know that a strong, stable democratic Pakistan is a necessity as a key partner in this effort. People in Pakistan are increasingly coming to the view that we do share a common enemy. I heard that repeatedly during my recent visit there. So we will significantly expand support to help develop the potential of the people of Pakistan, and we will do more to demonstrate to the Pakistani people that they must continue their efforts to weed out and defeat the Pakistani Taliban.

As we are moving forward with our international efforts, we have a great deal of commitment to troops, trainers, and resources that will be reported in the days and weeks ahead. Ambassador Holbrooke, our special representative, is already there consulting with our allies. And we are especially reaching out to Muslims everywhere to make clear that those who pervert a great religion do not represent it, and everyone has a stake in ensuring that they do not dominate the message and the narrative of what Islam stands for.

So let me conclude where I began: We face a range of difficult choices, but the President’s plan represents the best way we know to protect our nation today and tomorrow. The task is as complex as any national security challenge in our lifetimes. We will not succeed if people view this effort as the responsibility of a single party or a single agency within our government or a single country. We owe it to the troops and civilians who will face these dangers to come together as Americans, along with our allies and international partners, to accomplish this mission. I look forward to working with you to ensure that we do.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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PRN: 2009/1206