The death of Osama bin Laden “is a major victory” for the Obama administration, but it does not change the basic challenge that the United States faces in Afghanistan, US Sen. John Kerry said during a May 3 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and the committee’s chairman, stated in his prepared opening remarks: “Bin Laden is dead, but the fight against the violence and hatred he fomented is not over. One of the reasons we are here this morning is to examine how his death affects the conflict in Afghanistan and its implications for our upcoming troop withdrawal, our transition strategy and our partnerships in the region.”
Later on, Kerry rejected the notion that bin Laden’s death might enable a rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan. “We can’t do that,” Kerry insisted. “But it is no longer enough to simply lay out our goals. We need to determine what type of Afghanistan we plan to leave in our wake.”
The Senate committee will be holding a series of hearings in the coming weeks designed to sketch a vision for what the Afghanistan end-state looks like.
Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, noted that current US policies in Afghanistan are expensive and unlikely to succeed because “such grand nation-building ambitions in Afghanistan are beyond our powers.” He said Afghanistan’s strategic value did not justify spending “$100 billion per year” to maintain “100,000 American troops” there.
“We are spending enormous resources in a single country,” Lugar continued, adding that the problems in Afghanistan “may not be the most serious threats in the region.”
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was the most vociferous advocate among the hearing’s three witnesses for a fast reduction in the US presence in Afghanistan. Haass advocated pursuing “a more narrow and limited counter-terrorism strategy.” He claimed that the Afghan conflict, from Washington’s perspective, had evolved from a “war of necessity” into “a war of choice.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, until recently director of policy planning at the State Department, defended current US policies. She argued that the recent surge of US combat troops had arrested the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan. With bin Laden’s death, now was a good time to seek “a political settlement that is sufficiently accepted by all sides to create a long-term political equilibrium,” she contended. Ronald Neumann, who served as the American envoy to Afghanistan from 2005-2007, urged that the current strategy be given another year to yield results.
Originally published by EurasiaNet.org