At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic and Republican Senators criticized the Bush Administration for “sugarcoating” the situation in Afghanistan and expressed grave concerns that the US is not providing adequate commitment, resources, and security support for Afghanistan.
Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) opened the hearing with a call for US “follow through” in Afghanistan and for expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently has 4,800 peace keeping troops in Kabul, to areas outside of the capital. Said Lugar, “I agree with those who suggest that ISAF must expand its area of operations beyond the capital. The need to maintain security, distribute aid, and establish the credibility of the interim government exists throughout the country, not just in Kabul.”
Throughout the hearing, the senators pressed the State Department’s Afghanistan Coordinator David Johnson and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman, who testified before the Committee, on why the US has refused to commit with other nations to expand ISAF. The ranking Democrat on the Committee, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) said that “security [in Afghanistan] is jeopardized by the Administration’s refusal to support ISAF expansion.”
Both Republican and Democratic Senators also challenged the Department of Defense’s plan to deploy small provincial regional teams to 7-10 areas of Afghanistan over the next year as a substitute for ISAF expansion. The teams, which would vary in size from 10 to 60 people, would include special operations, civil affairs, and USAID personnel. Said Lugar, the teams “cannot fully compensate for the value of expanded ISAF.” Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) questioned whether the size of the teams would enable them to provide adequate protection for women’s rights and human rights.
Biden also expressed concern that the Bush Administration had redefined what constitutes security and stability in Afghanistan from the “mandate of a central government controlling all of Afghanistan that is multi-ethnic and violence-free” to the lesser standard of “lack of violence.” Biden stated that warlords, drugs, terrorism, and the influence of other countries in the region would continue to pose dangerous threats to Afghanistan’s central government and the country’s stability unless the US made greater commitments. He cited Herat warlord Kahn’s imposition of restrictions on women and asked if “that’s stability?”
Senators of both parties also called for full appropriation of funds for the newly passed Afghan Freedom Support Act, which provides $3.3 billion in reconstruction and security assistance for Afghanistan. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the Act’s chief sponsor, repeatedly asked the Department of Defense’s Rodman how much of their new $6.1 billion budget request would go for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and expressed frustration that Rodman would not answer the question.
At the hearing, Afghanistan’s Ambassador the United States Ishaq Shahryar, also called for the U.S. to support expansion of ISAF beyond Kabul and an increase in the force’s size to at least 15,000 troops, to fund the Afghan Freedom Support Act, to provide reconstruction funding directly through the central Afghan government, and to encourage the return of Afghan exiles to the country.
The Feminist Majority has been leading the call for ISAF expansion and increases in reconstruction funding and particularly for more resources to support the work of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Human Rights Commission.