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McKeon comments on Afghanistan hearing

Posted: May 10, 2010 3:24 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2010 3:22 p.m.
Washington, D.C. -- The House Armed Services Committee today heard testimony from senior Pentagon officials, including the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and the Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on security and stability efforts underway in Afghanistan. Ranking Member Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) released the following prepared statement for the hearing:

"We are a nation at war. The attempted terrorist attack in New York City's Times Square serves as the most recent reminder that we face dangerous enemies who threaten the safety and security of our country. The extraordinary men and women of our military, and their families, need no reminding of this threat. They know all too well the sacrifices and dedication it takes to keep this fight off our shores. Our troops understand why they are in Afghanistan: Al Qaeda, operating from safe havens provided by the repressive Taliban, planned and launched attacks on our homeland.

"A lot has happened since the President stood before the American people and made the case for his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy. Over half of the 30,000 forces authorized by the President have arrived in country. Our Marines and soldiers are working side-by-side with their Afghan and coalition partners-facing snipers, improvised explosive devices, and a skeptical Afghan population-to defeat the Taliban insurgency. They are operating with some constraints-both political and operational. This is where I would like to focus the remainder of my comments and questions.

"In my view, this body-no matter on which side of the aisle you reside-and this committee in particular-has the moral responsibility to ensure that this war is not fought with a minimalist mind-set, or with an eye toward the Washington political clock. I continue to support the President's decision to surge in Afghanistan. As we are seeing in Helmand, the additional forces are having an impact and demonstrating that we can win this conflict.

"Nearly eighteen months ago, Admiral Mike Mullen told this committee that ‘In Afghanistan, we do what we can, in Iraq, we do what we must.' When it comes to resourcing our efforts in Afghanistan, I remain concerned that we are not doing everything we must in order to ensure that General McChrystal and his commanders on the battlefield have the time, space and resources they need to succeed.

"Let me be clear, I have the upmost confidence that General McChrystal and his troops will get the mission done. My concern is that the minimalist approach being advocated from some in Washington raises the risk and increases casualties.

"The ‘30,000 troop cap' put in place by this Administration was a decision based on political considerations-not mission calculus. The unfortunate result is that it is sending the wrong signal to our commanders and forcing military planners to make difficult tradeoff decisions between combat troops and key enablers. I am particularly concerned that we are under resourcing force protection capabilities. These life-saving combat enablers-and others-were already under resourced prior to the President's troop surge.

"It is my understanding that there continues to be a serious indirect fire threat to U.S. and coalition Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in Afghanistan, yet the current force protection systems that protect FOBs in Iraq are not deployed to protect FOBs in Afghanistan. This is disconcerting, especially given the fact that we have evidence that such capabilities have saved hundreds of lives in Iraq. In March, I raised similar concerns to General Petraeus during the CENTCOM posture hearing.

"As I understand it, the timeline looks something like this:

-- In July 2009-CENTCOM validated Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) for Sense, Warn, and Response capability for Operation Enduring Freedom;

-- In August 2009-the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to act on the JUON;

-- In October 2009-Conngress approved reprogramming action in direct support of the JUON; and

-- In March 2010-General Petraeus told this committee that they were exploring the use of contractors to meet some of the requirements included in the JUON.

"Today, I'd like our witnesses to explain what modifications have been made to the original JUON and why these changes were made. Why are we addressing this particular force protection shortfall differently in Afghanistan than in Iraq? Specifically, why are we deploying contractors instead of military personnel? It has been almost a year since the JUON was validated? Is there even a contract in place yet to field this capability? It is my understanding that if we would have used military personal like we did in Iraq, this capability would already be over in Afghanistan protecting lives.

"While I have focused on the impact of the ‘troop cap' on the fielding of certain key enablers, this ‘cap' becomes more problematic when you consider that some of our NATO allies are not meeting their commitments and others will be withdrawing their forces from southern Afghanistan. I would like our witnesses to address the statement made in the 1230 report that the redeployment of Dutch and Canadian forces in 2010 and 2011 will create demands for additional forces in the near future. How will we mitigate this 4,700 gap in southern Afghanistan if there is a ‘cap'? Yesterday, it was announced that the U.S. will be deploying 850 more soldiers as a stopgap measure to fill vacancies for training security forces. What other gaps exist?

"Further, as Admiral Mullen's comments suggest, there was a time when many thought of the two wars as a struggle for resources, resulting in the ‘haves' and ‘have nots'-Iraq was the ‘haves' and Afghanistan was the ‘have nots'. My suspicion is that the mentality of the ‘have nots' may be impacting how commanders are employing the resources that they do have in Afghanistan. For example, in Iraq, there was a capability called Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize). This task force was responsible for killing or capturing over 3,000 insurgents as they were trying to put in IEDs. Basically, turning the job of emplacing of IEDs into a suicide mission.

"In Afghanistan, they are standing up a similar Task Force ODIN capability. However, it is my understanding that this capability is being used differently than it was in Iraq. Instead of being used to specifically to go after to go after IED emplacers, it is being incorporated into the ‘big picture' ISR requirement. I would like to hear from our witnesses why we are not adopting the lessons we learned and employing Task Force ODIN in Afghanistan in the same way that we used it in Iraq. As we know, IED attacks are a significant threat to our forces in Afghanistan, causing the most civilian and military casualties in Afghanistan. Is the approach in Afghanistan a result of the tactical decisions being made by the commanders or is it the result of the issue of the ‘have nots' mentality and signaling from Washington to operate under the ceilings you've been given.

"Lastly, I have raised concerns that the emphasis in our strategy appears to be on ending the conflict- rather than winning. With all of the President's major domestic policy announcements, speeches and events, he has a pretty straight forward formula he uses to win over public support. When it comes to Afghanistan, I wish he would do the same and would use words like ‘victory' and ‘winning' more rather than ‘transition' and ‘redeployment'. With that said, it is not clear to me that this Administration has defined the conditions or criteria for transition. I hope to get a better understanding today on what ‘transition' exactly means. How do you explain the transition to the Afghans, to the enemy, and to our forces on the ground? What conditions have to exist and what criteria will be used to conclude that a district is ready for it to transition to the Afghans for security responsibility?"


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