Kerry going to Afghanistan to assess troop needs

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is preparing a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan next week to meet with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and local government and tribal officials to assess what the next course of action by the U.S. toward the region should be.

As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has not endorsed the leading military commander in Afghanistan’s recommendation of sending as many as 40,000 additional troops to the country, saying that while more troops may be useful it could also be expensive and spur higher levels of violence.

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“[I’m going to Afghanistan and Pakistan] to really try to sink into my gut what’s possible here, what do we believe we can achieve…and I’m not telling you there won’t be a way to use more troops intelligently,” he told an audience of several hundred on Wednesday night at the National Cathedral.

“But you have to calculate, every thousand troops is $1 billion. … And will that be the last request for troops, if that’s the footprint that we take? Because other people tell me that one thing the Afghans know how to do, particularly the Pashtun, is rise to the fight, and if more people come in and they’re perceived as just being more kinetic troops on the ground, they will find a way to rise to that fight.”

Kerry’s comments came as he sat beside Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani, who also declined to take a stand on what the American troop presence in neighboring Afghanistan should be, other than to say that that a removal of troops from the country would leave Americans vulnerable to another attack like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001.

Wednesday evening’s events followed a White House meeting with congressional leaders earlier this week, after which Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) stressed that U.S. troops in Afghanistan “are in much greater danger the longer this debate goes on.”

President Barack Obama has not weighed in on McChrystal’s proposal for a major troop buildup, other than to say that he wants to see all of the options available before taking action.

Kerry said that al-Qaeda was not much of a threat in Afghanistan and that there were not many active terrorists in the country, but rather that the northwestern region of neighboring Pakistan served as the real threat.

“There may be a few lower-tiered, maybe 100 total people helping putting IED’s out or something, but al-Qaeda is fundamentally not in Afghanisan, it’s in Pakistan,” he said.

“You don’t want them returning and having a sanctuary from which they can then plot the next attack against the United States.”

A suicide car bomb killed 17 people early Thursday morning outside of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city.

A bill that triples aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for the next five years was approved last week. Kerry co-authored the legislation with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and stressed the importance on Wednesday of providing Pakistan with the necessary social and economic assistance to fight al-Qaeda.