We Cannot Afford to Lose Afghanistan Again

In response to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, five years ago the United States led an international coalition to liberate the Afghan people from brutal Taliban rule.  Those who had aided and sheltered the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks were swept from power.

Five years later, the Bush Administration has badly bungled Afghanistan policy, and we are once again on the brink of losing Afghanistan to armed terrorists.  The Administration failed – and failed in a potentially catastrophic way – to stabilize Afghanistan so that it can never again be used as a terrorist base.  The horrifying truth is that, as a result, we in this country are in many ways less secure today than we were five years ago.

This morning the House International Relations Committee held a hearing examining these issues.  We had an impressive lineup of expert witnesses, but not one from the Bush Administration.  The Administration refused to send an authoritative witness.  As Afghanistan goes down the tubes before our eyes, the Administration couldn’t be bothered to spare for even one hour the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Newman – who was scheduled to be in Washington today – to appear before our committee to explain the Administration’s policy in Afghanistan.

By thumbing its nose at us, the Administration shows the world what it thinks about Congressional oversight.  I have urged Committee Chairman Henry Hyde to demand that the Administration send a high-level witness to appear before us next week.

Yesterday, I led the committee’s Democrats in sending a letter to President Bush calling for immediate action to reverse the descent of Afghanistan into lawlessness.  The enormous sacrifices made by American and other troops to liberate Afghanistan and its people must not be in vain.
In our letter, we pointed out what is painfully obvious to every outside observer of Afghanistan – that the government in Kabul is still too weak, too poor, and too riddled with corruption to provide basic services and security, or to promote economic opportunity.

The Taliban, who coddled the 9/11 terrorists, are resurgent in the South and East, showing surprising military force and using new terror tactics that we have heretofore seen only in Iraq.

And there has been an almost-unimaginable growth in opium cultivation and narcotics this year.  The UN Office of Drug Control and Policy – whose director, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, was one of our witnesses today --  is reporting a nearly 60 percent increase this year in poppy growth over last year, exceeding the already record levels of two years ago.

These three elements have coalesced into a vicious cycle of fear and despair for the Afghan people.  Each element reinforces the other.  To break this cycle, the Administration must devote far more attention and resources to Afghanistan than what it has managed to toss together over the last five years.

We have therefore called upon the President to conduct an immediate, bottom-up review of the Administration’s Afghanistan failed policies and programs, with a significant increase in funding to match our vital national interest in a secure and democratic Afghanistan.   This effort must be overseen by a senior White House official who reports directly to the President, and whose sole responsibility will be to lead and to coordinate all U.S. activities in Afghanistan.

Second, we have urged the President to direct our armed forces in Afghanistan and to encourage NATO forces to begin operations against drug traffickers and narco-warlords immediately throughout Afghanistan, but especially in the southern regions.

Opium poppy is becoming the Taliban’s weapon of choice in its demented quest to bring down Afghan democracy.  For the income it provides to the terrorists, every poppy that blooms will only sow seeds of chaos and destruction. No country in recorded history has produced as much opium as Afghanistan is producing today. Narcotics trafficking accounts for nearly one-third of Afghanistan’s economy, more than two billion dollars a year.

The huge profits from the opium trade are funding the implements of terror for the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and criminal gangs that are preying on the innocent and killing our people, Coalition allies, and Afghan soldiers, officials and civilians.  The narco-warlords are making plantations of whole regions of Afghanistan, entangling poor farmers in a web of desperation, economic dependency and fear.

They are also buying themselves government positions and parliamentary elections, further corrupting Afghanistan’s nascent democracy.

A more aggressive counter-narcotics program must also include much greater efforts and resources for reconstruction, political development, alternative livelihood programs and poppy eradication.  Otherwise, there can be no hope of stopping the tidal wave of violence, corruption and despair that is presently consuming Afghanistan.

The courageous men and women of this country’s armed forces and their NATO and Afghan counterparts are fighting and – in disturbingly larger numbers – are dying for a noble cause: the liberation of the people of Afghanistan from the tyranny and barbarism of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and from the degradation of more than 20 years of civil war.  They are also fighting to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a terrorist sanctuary from which future 9/11’s can be launched.  We must ensure that their valor and their sacrifices are more than meaningful – that they achieve a satisfactory end.  We cannot afford to lose Afghanistan again.

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