Mass. reps not sold on Afghanistan strategy
The region's congressional delegation is greeting President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan with questions, and in some cases, criticism.
"Expanding our military footprint in Afghanistan would be counterproductive," U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-3rd, said yesterday.
Obama announced Tuesday that he plans to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan by the fall and begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011.
The plan has drawn mixed reviews from Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress.
Some who represent Massachusetts said yesterday they worry that the plan hinges on major uncertainties. They include conditions in neighboring Pakistan and whether the Afghan people will see their government, plagued by corruption scandals, as legitimate.
"I have a lot of questions I think still need to be asked," said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-5th, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
In a statement, Rep. Edward Markey, D-7th, said he is considering Obama's case very carefully, but has "a number of concerns about our policy in Afghanistan and our exit strategy."
Markey's statement did not cite specific concerns.
McGovern said a military buildup may only result in more Taliban recruits. Nor will it be an effective way to combat al Qaeda, which has largely moved into Pakistan and exists in other countries, too, he said.
To go after al Qaeda, "we need better intelligence, we need better international cooperation and there will be need for more targeted military strikes," he said. "Let's not get bogged down in a war in Afghanistan."
The United States also needs to keep up pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militants and control its nuclear arsenal, McGovern said.
Obama acknowledged the importance of Pakistan's role in Tuesday's speech.
McGovern stressed he is not "for abandoning the Afghan people." He said the United States has seen the most success in areas where it has worked closely with local leaders to build schools and clinics - without a major military presence, he said.
At the same time, McGovern said when he voted in 2001 to use force in Afghanistan, "I didn't vote for nation-building."
"How do we sustain all of this? How do we pay for all of this?" he said.
Afghanistan's national government is "corrupt and fraudulent," he said.
"What the hell are we doing backing a guy like that?" McGovern said of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "I don't want to risk American lives supporting a corrupt regime."
Tsongas said Obama "made as good a case as one can for a very challenging situation."
The president inherited a "greatly destabilized situation" because the United States failed to capitalize on its successes after 2001, Tsongas said.
Much of the new strategy hinges on Pakistan's ability to deal with its own security and the Taliban, she said. If that nation cannot control militants, the United States will only be pushing its problems over the border, she said.
Tsongas also questioned if the estimated cost of the strategy includes private contractors who will be part of the mission, or the long-term cost on the military in deploying soldiers repeatedly.
Training Afghan forces has, until now, "proven to be very elusive," but the effort has lacked enough trainers, Tsongas said.
While she initially questioned the 2011 pullout, Tsongas said Admiral Michael Mullen told lawmakers that date will allow for three fighting seasons to determine if the new strategy is having an impact.
"The date itself is a point at which they'll say what we're doing is working or what we're doing is not working," Tsongas said.
Interim Sen. Paul Kirk said in a statement that he is skeptical about a troop buildup "when the legitimacy of our Afghan partner is in serious question."
In a statement, Sen. John Kerry offered measured support, saying the only way to be successful is to rapidly transfer responsibility to the Afghans.
David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.