One day after President Obama announced plans to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Senator Susan Collins questioned Administration officials about the way forward. Senator Collins is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that, today, held the first Congressional oversight hearing on the President’s proposal.
Witnesses included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen.
Senator Collins, who has traveled to Afghanistan four times, most recently last August, asked Secretary Gates why the Administration feels it is critical to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan when al-Qaida currently has a presence in as many as 20 countries, including Yemen where an al-Qaida cell launched a successful attack on the American Embassy in September 2008.
“How will it make us safer to invest more troops and more treasure in Afghanistan as long as al-Qaida still has the ability to establish safe havens in other countries?,” asked Senator Collins.
Secretary Gates responded that al-Qaida’s presence in the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan is “still the well-spring of inspiration ground for extremist jihadism everywhere. The fact is the inspiration and the guidance and strategic leadership comes from the al-Qaida leadership in that area.”
Senator Collins then questioned Secretary of State Clinton and asked whether she believes the United States can succeed in Afghanistan, given the tremendous obstacles, “despite the brilliance of our leaders, the courage of our troops, and the efforts of the civilian component.”
“Is this an impossible task? We have a corrupt and ineffective government as a partner in Afghanistan. We have seen, in the past two years, even with the presence of NATO troops, the government lose control of much of the country. Can this work?” asked Senator Collins.
“We believe it can. This is a critical question,” Secretary Clinton responded.
Senator Collins has said that she continues to have questions about the impact of deploying more American combat troops to Afghanistan. But she agrees with the President that it is crucial that the U.S. help expand the size of the Afghan Army and that any surge of American troops must be accompanies by a surge in Afghan troops.