(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) told CNSNews.com that “it remains to be seen” if Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own after U.S. troops begin to pull out in July 2011.
“Well I think if we’re successful in our mission, that we will be able to see the Pakistani, or excuse me, the Afghan government begin to assert the control both through the military and police forces, but I think that remains to be seen,” Crapo told CNSNews.com.
Prior to talking to CNSNews.com on Tuesday, Crapo, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) held a press conference to discuss their recent trip as a GOP delegation to Afghanistan and Pakistan, from which they returned on Monday, Jan. 11.
During the press conference, McConnell, Crapo, and Wicker indicated that existing concerns among Pakistani and Afghan officials that the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan are in vain stemmed from the July 2011 withdrawal date set by President Obama.
“With regards to the deadline of summer of ’11, I think it is somewhat of a problem for both the Afghans and for the Americans over there in terms of our willingness to stay,” said Sen. McConnell.
While McConnell said there is some “confusion” among Afghani and Pakistani officials concerning the United States completing its mission and the withdrawal date, he also noted that removing U.S. troops would be contingent upon the July 2011 conditions on the ground, as the president, the secretary of State, and the secretary of Defense have indicated.
Senator Wicker said that government and military leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan “will tell you that the July 2011 withdrawal date is a problem.”
However, Wicker was more optimistic than McConnell, saying that “is a problem that can be overcome.”
“But it is a propaganda tool,” said Wicker, something that many Republicans warned about, “for the Taliban who are, who are spreading the message that the United States may not be there to stay, may not be there for the long haul, and it’s a propaganda tool for those people in the area who don’t wish us well and will like to see us fail.”
The Mississippi senator indicated that U.S. and Afghan officials are combating the insurgents’ usage of the withdrawal date as a propaganda tool by disseminating comments from officials in the Obama administration about the U.S. goal to maintain a “a long-term strategic partnership” with Afghanistan.
“Our officials and the Afghan officials are countering this [insurgent propaganda] by, by pointing out those statements made by the Secretary of Defense and, and by members of the administration that we are there for a long-term strategic partnership,” said Wicker.
After praising the morale of the American forces in Afghanistan, Sen. Crapo noted, however, that “there does seem to be a bit of a deficit of trust, and what I mean there is that both in terms of Pakistani officials as well as Afghanistan officials, they have a concern about whether the United States is going to finish the job, and this is creating concern in both Pakistan and in Afghanistan.”
Crapo further said that the withdrawal date has induced Pakistan into questioning its commitment to combat Taliban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan and with whom they have no major quarrels.
“Pakistan, I believe, is somewhat concerned about whether the United States is going to be withdrawing in just the 18 months and, if so, whether it’s a good move on their part to engage in trying to clear the Taliban with whom they do not have a current conflict,” said Crapo.
There is a similar uneasiness in Afghanistan, said Crapo. “On the Afghan side of the border there is a similar issue and that is, as our troops clear an area then the process of holding and building the area significantly involves wining the confidence and trust of the people in the region.”
He added that if the Afghan people are under the impression that the U.S. commitment is not long-term, it makes it difficult for them to decide whether to switch “their allegiance or to move their loyalty” away from the insurgency.
While testifying before a congressional panel last month, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO-led military forces in Afghanistan, suggested that winning the war in Afghanistan meant that the Afghan government and the National Security Forces had to be capable of defending their sovereignty.
“I would define winning as when we have our partners in Afghanistan, the government, and the Afghan national security forces to the point where they can defend their sovereignty with very limited help from the outside,” said McChrystal.
On Dec. 1, while speaking at West Point Academy, President Obama said that U.S. troops would begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011.