Merkley Statement on Trip to Afghanistan

Portland, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement after returning from a Congressional Delegation trip to Afghanistan.

“You can’t meet with our troops overseas and not be blown away by their skill, dedication, and sacrifice.  They undertake and accomplish amazing things under incredibly difficult conditions every day, and it was an honor to spend time with them.

“This was my second trip to Afghanistan, and some things have distinctly changed from my last visit 18 months ago.  This time, everyone from General Allen on down is zeroed in on preparing for the transition in 2014, based on the timeline President Obama has adopted for when the Afghans are to take over security for their country. 

“The security situation has also changed.  The traditional Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan is now much more firmly in coalition control, but the situation along the border with Pakistan in the east has become more difficult.  The Haqqani group, which operates on both sides of the border there, has grown as a threat and continues to have a safe haven in Pakistan.

“The military leadership painted a very positive picture of the training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, both with regard to the numbers and performance of the Afghans.  Our training mission has made the teaching of literacy a priority, seeing it as an essential element in both retention and performance since 84% of the recruits are illiterate.  The U.S. has also developed new training programs for military leaders and for specific military skills.

“There is also a relatively new Afghan Local Police (ALP) initiative underway to help train locally-selected men to defend local villages.  I visited a village close to the Pakistani border where U.S. troops live among the villagers and train the ALP units in the area. The depth of trust our soldiers have established in that village make it a model the U.S. hopes to apply more broadly. If successful, this program could be an important piece of the security puzzle.

“In short, our military is doing everything it can to help the Afghan government and security forces succeed. But a stable and successful Afghanistan requires much more, and there is less to be encouraged about in other dimensions.

“Endemic corruption continues to plague the Afghan government, the security forces and financial institutions. While President Karzai assured us he now intends to take on this challenge, there is little evidence for arguing that such efforts will be successful. The corruption does enormous damage. It makes the central government and its representatives something to fear rather than a source of services or security to the population.  In other cases, such as the billion dollar theft from the Kabul Bank, it greatly damages the future economic prospects of the nation.

“The political system is dysfunctional, leaving enormous questions regarding the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013 and 2014. 

“And despite the best efforts of the superb U.S. troops, security is greatly compromised by the safe havens insurgents have in Pakistan. After meeting with top Pakistani leaders, I have no reason to think that they will help us eliminate those safe havens.

“In summary, America has accomplished the goals that we originally set out: eliminating the Taliban from power; destroying al Qaeda training camps; and bringing to justice those responsible for 9/11. We have, however, slid into an additional nation-building strategy that faces enormous obstacles and consumes and enormous share of our military and economic resources. Thus, I will continue to encourage our President to rethink this mission and to adopt a counter-terrorism approach that recognizes the substantial terrorist activities round the world and brings our nation-building deployment in Afghanistan to an end.”