Holbrooke testifies on Afghanistan before Congress
Last month, Afghanistan surpassed Vietnam as the longest military campaign in US history, said US Senator John Kerry. It’s the comparison that cannot be avoided, by press, pundits, and now, politicians.
Senator Kerry brought up the failed U.S. war of decades ago at a crucial time in America’s current one.
“This is a difficult moment in the Afghan conflict,” according to the Senator.
It’s a moment when questions about strategy and progress abound, evident at a hearing on governance and the US civilian strategy in the region. The man in charge of those efforts for the Obama Administration, a Vietnam veteran himself, tries to make a lesson of that history.
“I want to underscore the fundamental difference between those two wars, in [Afghanistan] national security is at stake,” said US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With the safety of the US at stake as Richard Holbrooke claims, you might think congress would have crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s by now, in fighting their longest battle, as they’re supposed to.
“The United States Constitution requires that before the U.S. goes to war there is an act of Congress,” said US Congressman Denis Kucinich (D-OH) in an interview with RT.
But just as in the Vietnam War, Congress “never filed that procedure with respect to a war in Afghanistan,” according to Kucinich. “We’ve simply drifted into a war and a long term commitment.”
It’s a long term commitment that appears to be wearing on lawmakers who want to know this:
“Wouldn’t it be helpful for the president to at least lay out a flexible timetable,” asked US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI).
He is referring of course to a timetable for when the US is getting out of Afghanistan. That is beyond the July 2011 date to start the withdrawal US President Barack Obama previously set.
It is given no assurance “that this should not be an open ended occupation,” said Senator Feingold.
Holbrooke emphasized the US’s committed to no calendar.
“I am very leary of giving an absolute date of troop withdrawal from the region,” he told congress.
But still, the end game is unclear.
“The military and civilian mission is proceeding in Afghanistan without a clear definition of success,” said Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN).
The ambassador is banking on the success of reintegrating the Taliban, starting next week. But little about Afghanistan appears to be in US favor.
“It’s not where you chose to defend the American homeland,” Holbrooke said of Afghanistan. “It’s the most logistically difficult place the US has ever fought in its history.”
But just who can put an end to this fight, in the absence of withdrawal dates, and if military and political missions fail?
“The congress has the ability to stop the war by not funding it,” Kucinich pointed out.
As US lawmakers and officials talk strategy and tout successes in Afghanistan, this comes amidst escalating violence in the region. June was the bloodiest month since the conflict started. One hundred international troops were killed. So far in July 45 have been killed, 33 of those were Americans. And in the last 24 hours alone, 12 have been killed.
The overall strategy in Afghanistan is to pass on the leadership role from the US and coalition forces to the Afghan military. Jake Diliberto of Rethink Afghanistan said however that the Afghans are in no way prepared to take on the leadership role.
“The Afghan army is ineffective in every possible way, so the Taliban are going to gain momentum and unfortunately unless there is peace talks and peace negotiation the situation will always be a quagmire,” said Diliberto.
Diliberto argued that the Taliban is a generational mindset that is deeply embedded into the culture. It is an ideology that cannot simply be defeated with force and no amount of money will make the Taliban stop fighting.
“The main reason for the rise of the Taliban is because we are in their villages and valleys. We shouldn’t be there,” said Diliberto.
He added that utilizing a proposal US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports that would use funds to buy-off Taliban members won’t work.
“It would be kind of similar to bribing gang members to rat out other gang members” he said. "The concept is absolutely ludicrous.”