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Clinton, Gates, and Mullen: SASC Testimony December 3, 2009

Posted by Trice Kabundi in Briefing.
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Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs trekked to the hill yesterday to defend the President’s new Afghan policy testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  All three are speaking this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen will speak this afternoon before the House Armed Services Committee.  Below is a summary of their prepared statements before the SASC, which are identical in content to that presented this morning to the SFRC.

Secretary Clinton

Secretary Clinton expanded on the civilian component of the new Afghan strategy, which was only briefly mentioned in President Obama’s speech. The number of US civilians in Afghanistan is expected to triple to 974 by early next year. According to Clinton, each civilian worker engages with an average of ten partners, covering a wide spectrum from locally employed Afghans to specialists from US-funded NGO’s.  The role of the US civilians will be to enhance the abilities of the Afghan government’s ministries through initiatives such as aiding in the drafting of policy, and in development efforts out in the field.

The agricultural sector in Afghanistan will also be a major component of civilian efforts and economic assistance. By increasing agricultural viability in Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton stated that new jobs will be created, and poppy cultivation will decrease thus limiting the Taliban’s source of funding. Furthermore, individuals involved with the Taliban for purely financial reasons will have more of an incentive to come “off the battlefield.”

Clinton stressed that the new Afghan strategy is the best option to ensure that the US is protected now and in the future, reaffirming President Obama’s stated objectives.

Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates reaffirmed the Obama Doctrine, which is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda.” He stressed that the defeat of al-Qaeda and the strengthening of Afghan Security Forces go hand-in-hand in determining US success. Secretary Gates emphasized that the new approach is not open-ended, nor can it be considered “nation building.”  Rather, the approach is tied to the defeat of the Taliban and al Qaeda to secure US security interests.

Gates provided six objectives of the military and civilian forces in Afghanistan:

  1. Reverse the momentum of the Taliban
  2. Ensure that the Taliban will not gain access and control of the population, production centers, and “lines of communications”
  3. Eliminate the threat of Afghanistan outside of the secured areas and removing Afghan safe havens
  4. Defeat the Taliban to levels that are “manageable by the Afghan National Security Forces”
  5. Strengthen the size and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) so transition over security control can begin within 18 months
  6. Build the abilities of the Afghan national government

It is worth mentioning that Gates differentiated Afghanistan and Pakistan from the other terrorist hotbeds around the world. Gates stated that there is a symbolic meaning of Afghanistan and that the country “represent(s) the epicenter of extremists Jihadism: the historic place where native and foreign Muslims defeated one superpower [the Soviet Union].”

Gates also expanded upon what exactly is at stake if the US fails in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  In his view, the failure of the US and its alliances would lead to a strengthened Taliban and a stronger international Al Qaeda foothold and base of support.

Admiral Mullen

Admiral Mullen stressed that the months of deliberating over a new strategy have led to a more narrowly defined goal in Afghanistan, one that will “deny al Qaeda safe haven and the Afghan-Taliban ability to overthrow the duly elected Afghan government.” Mullen reiterated the objectives laid out in President Obama’s speech as means for how the goal will be achieved. Admiral Mullen also gave a more succinct, two-pronged description of the new US role of filling “the security gap for a short time,” while strengthening the Afghan government’s ability to “self-secure.”

Additionally, Mullen provided a response to many who have questioned the role the newly deployed troops will play in Afghanistan. According to Mullen, most of the additional troops deployed will conduct COIN operations in the Taliban strongholds in south and east Afghanistan in order to provide protection to the population in these areas, and increase the capacity of Afghan Security Forces.

Though Mullen admits that higher alliance casualties will most likely occur over the next few months, he stated that he has strong confidence that the mission will be successful; and over the next 18-24 months Afghanistan will be capable of taking over components of its own security.

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