House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Oversight of a New Interagency Strategy”

By Joe Walsh.

National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee

June 24, 2009

Witnesses:

Lt. Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson (USMC, Retired), Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Ambassador

Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

*All statements, unless otherwise noted, come from Holbrooke

 

Overall comments

Committee members emphasized that tax payer dollars must be well-spent. Holbrooke agreed. Gregson argued that the new strategy was the only possible course of action: we cannot rely on containment of Afghanistan and Pakistan issues because this is simply not possible in the age of globalization; we must focus more on activities related to nation-building.

Interagency efforts

Holbrooke explained that the Special State Department office which he heads has been created to integrate efforts of DoD, CIA, Treasury, FBI, Agriculture, USAID, DHS, DoJ, and UK Foreign Office. He mentioned Gates’ statement that this is a “genuine whole-of government effort.” Both witnesses argued that we cannot separate civilian and military efforts—civilians have a unique mission but are dependent on military for security; one recent integrated plan involved formulating cohesive approach to agriculture issues with USDA, USAID, and DoD. The government has developed metrics to evaluate performance in Afghanistan and Pakistan but these were created by other offices and are not yet publicly available; fundamental point with metrics is to distinguish between inputs and outputs (must focus on measuring outputs). In Afghanistan, US will insert civilian leaders to deal specifically with military, but only applies to US Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs); lead must still be taken by military. After personal appeals of senior leaders, e.g. Secretary Clinton, many people throughout government offered to fill civilian capacity positions; e.g. recruited Pakistani-American female doctors to work in Pakistan’s refugee camps. These efforts led to 800 volunteers for civilian surge from State, another 305 from DoD – ‘these are quality people’.

 

Oversight of Contracts

Holbrooke’s office is re-evaluating all current contracts in Afghanistan and has put on hold and re-negotiated hundreds of poorly designed and funded contracts with both for-profit and non-profit firms. Ex: Creation of office for women’s rights in DoS will replace $30 billion in contracts with non-profits. Both witnesses acknowledge the need for greater accountability and transparency in the interagency effort.

 

Pakistan

Pakistan is a clear strategic priority and a country with which the US must be involved, though the Pakistani government has rejected the idea of any US ground troops, so we must find different ways to support their efforts against the Taliban. Holbrooke noted that all elements of the Pakistani political spectrum (Zardari camp, Sharif camp, and military) now recognize and are committed to action against the threat that the Pakistani Taliban poses. Holbrooke would support expansion of aid monitoring in Pakistan; Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) not expansive enough (must apply to both Afghanistan and Pakistan) and must be totally independent from executive branch – this was Holbrooke’s personal opinion and not administration policy. H. noted that Obama was first leader involved in Pakistani refugee crisis; Secretary Clinton designated $110 M and more in supplemental, but US is funding 55% of effort (rest of world has not sufficiently responded, event after personal appeals by US senior government officials).

 

H.  on narcotics: Efforts in Afghanistan aimed at stopping the drug trade are hugely important; US will cease crop eradication because of negative impact on subsistence farmers (potential for turning to Taliban) but increase interdiction efforts. Narcotics is the major source of funding for low-level Taliban in Afghanistan. Other beneficiaries include corrupt Afghan government officials and police. They are also funded by extortion and other illegal activities. Sufficient security is required to ensure that alternative crops are more profitable than drugs (improved transportation network, protection from extortion).  Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda are primarily funded by foreign support – mostly from individuals in the gulf – the US is currently working with international partners on this issue.

Strategic communications are essential; all propaganda from enemy is negative about US and US must have counter-propaganda but not with an “American accent” (must recruit locals).

Afghan presidential elections are in 55 days; US is emphasizing fairness but not endorsing any one candidate.

Gregson: All commanders and air crews recognize the need to avoid civilian casualties; in risking civilian casualties commanders must balance objective and risk of increased extremism. Gregson: US currently conducting another assessment of Afghan strategy after McChrystal appointment; must recognize need for whole-of-government and whole-of-nations approach.

*Both witnesses specifically shied away from questions on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and on drone strikes, citing confidentiality.  Holbrooke did note that it was his understanding (2nd hand) that while the release of A.Q .Khan was of interest, he was no longer a threat because he has been disregarded by Gov. of Pakistan and is aging. U.S. should have been allowed to interrogate him.

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