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CONTACT: Senator Russ Feingold
Feingold Questions Afghanistan Strategy During Foreign Relations Committee Hearing
WASHINGTON - April 23 - Today, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold participated in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled “Voice of Veterans of the Afghan War.” The hearing featured testimony of several veterans of the Afghanistan war, as well as Colonel Andrew Bacevich (Ret), a West Point graduate currently on the faculty at Boston University. During the hearing, Senator Feingold, who has raised concerns with the president’s proposed troop increase in Afghanistan without an adequate strategy for Pakistan, had this exchange with Bacevich:
Feingold: Isn’t necessary. Colonel Bacevich what are the prospects for defeating the insurgency by increasing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan given some concerns that many if not most Afghans in the South oppose the presence of U.S. troops?
Andrew Bacevich, Colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.): Several people have made the point that this is not a problem that has a military solution. That to the degree that there is a solution, the solution in Afghanistan is going to be found in what is going to be a massive and protracted and tremendously costly exercise in nation building. I think the likelihood of that exercise in producing success ten or fifteen years downstream is not great but I think the larger point to be made, and I think you made it in your remarks and I think Senator Lugar alluded to the same thing, even if we could magically wave our wand and tomorrow have the Afghanistan problem be solved – that the country would be stable, that the government would be legitimate – what exactly would we have achieved in a strategic sense? I think in a strategic sense the gains would be very limited because as you suggested, and as this administration has acknowledged in the creation in this term “Af-Pak,” it is a mistake to view Afghanistan in isolation and in many respects the larger problem is in neighboring Pakistan. To invest enormous resources in Afghanistan I think is allowing technical considerations to take precedence over strategic thinking.
Feingold: This is precisely what’s been bothering me since I spent four or five days in Pakistan in this region less than a year ago, and after the thoughtful remarks of the chairman after his recent visit there, I want to follow on this inter-relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. What about the possibility that an escalation in Afghanistan can actually be more destabilizing to Pakistan. In other words, in terms of militants spilling back over into that border. Is that a fair concern or not?
Bacevich: I think it's a very real concern. You know, there's a very interesting, I think, flawed new book out by David Kilcullen, the counter-insurgency specialist, called “The Accidental Guerrilla.” There’s a lot about that book that I disagree, but there’s one core truth I think that he give us. And that is the notion that most of the people who fight against us, in places like Afghanistan, are fighting against us because we're there. Now we may not believe that we are invading and occupying countries, but the people on the other end view themselves as being invaded and occupied. So to some degree, to some measurable degree, in places like Afghanistan, increasing the U.S. presence actually increases the dimensions of the problem.
Feingold: And Colonel, Admiral Mullen has acknowledged that the Pakistani security services maintains relations with militants in Pakistan. There are press reports that this includes the provision of fuel and ammunition for Taliban operation against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If these allegations are correct, what is the likelihood that we can stabilize the region or deny al Qaeda safe havens there so long as this sort of activity continues?
Bacevich: Next to none.
Video of Senator Feingold’s exchange with Bacevich is available here. Senator Feingold’s full statement and exchange with the witnesses (both video and transcript) are available below. The hearing came on a day when there were reports of the Taliban gaining control over more territory in Pakistan.