By Alicia M. Cohn - 06/23/11 05:51 PM EDT
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated Thursday that the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan is ramping up even as the U.S. begins a drawdown of military forces.
“We are and should be encouraged by what we’ve accomplished,” said Clinton, who said she was in 100 percent agreement with the president's strategy.
“The decision the president made was supported by the national security team,” said Clinton. It followed a very “open, candid” conversation within the team, she said.
But Clinton declined to discuss whether the president’s decision followed the recommendation of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Clinton did say it is understandable that any military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them. Some reports have said military leaders did not want Obama to pull out as many troops as quickly as he plans to do.
Pressed by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the effect the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan will have on neighbor Pakistan, Clinton characterized the region as a Rubik’s cube.
“We are not going to expect any miracles overnight,” she said. Historically, the region has been very good at “hedging,” according to Clinton.
Talks among the core group of leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue, including a meeting next week, she said. Clinton pointed to the implementation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement on June 12 as proof of progress. “The trucks are now rolling across the border,” she said.
Clinton identified Iran as another major player in the region, along with India due to its relationship with Pakistan, Russia and others.
Another significant issue under diplomatic negotiation is the strength the Afghanistan government and their ability to take on the responsibility of self-governance.
Asked to grade Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, Clinton said she'd give him an “incomplete.”
Clinton noted that the U.S. has supported governments that “drove us crazy” over a long period of time in the past. “It took a lot of patience,” she said.
Clinton also reported that the Afghan security forces have built up enough over the past two and a half years that they have already begun to take the lead on security in the country.
“So-called 'nation building' raises a lot of questions in people’s minds,” she said. “That is not what we think we’re doing or what we intend to do.”
However, the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to the Afghanistan military and police forces even after the U.S. pulls out, she said. “It will be something that will be a lot cheaper than what we’re doing now,” she said, emphasizing that other NATO countries will continue to provide assistance as well and remain a presence to ensure that terrorism does not regain a foothold in the country.
Meanwhile, she said that troops remaining in Afghanistan until 2014 — the deadline to remove U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan previously announced by the president — will continue to train Afghan forces and engage in a reduced number of combat missions.