National Security

Clinton Testifies On Afghanistan, Pakistan

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, more of a hawk than the president on the war in Afghanistan, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. goals and progress in achieving them in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the U.S. troops begin to pull out, what is the strategy for the remaining troops? How does the U.S. plan to work with a hostile and unstable Pakistan?


From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

First came President Obama's announcement last night. He told the nation that he plans to withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by next summer. Then, today, came the sales job on Capitol Hill. Pitching the president's policy to lawmakers were his top military officer and his top diplomat.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: First, a word about someone conspicuously absent from today's marketing of the president's troop drawdown decision. That would be Robert Gates, the defense secretary who championed the troop surge that Mr. Obama is now reversing.

While Gates is retiring at the end of the month, he also had repeatedly called publicly for a more modest pull-out than the one the president settled on. But Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen did appear before the House Armed Services Committee today where he acknowledged having also hoped for a more modest outcome.

Admiral MIKE MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): What I can tell you is the president's decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. More force for more time is without doubt the safer course, but that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take.

WELNA: Across the capital, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. is beginning the troop drawdown from a position of strength. There have been reports that Clinton herself had earlier argued for a slower pull-out, so Tennessee Republican Bob Corker put her on the spot.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): Let me ask you. Do you 100 percent agree with what the president had to say last night?

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): Yes, I do.

WELNA: But it's also well known that General David Petraeus, as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, advocated keeping more of the surge troops there longer. Florida Republican Marco Rubio pressed Clinton for details.

Senator MARCO RUBIO (Florida): Could you share with us, is it possible to share with us what General Petraeus' recommendation was with regards to the timetable and the numbers?

Secretary CLINTON: You know, Senator, I'm not going to be able to do that, but I can tell you that the decision that the president made was supported by the national security team. And I think it would be totally understandable that a military commander would want as many troops for as long as he could get them.

WELNA: Democrats on the committee almost all said they wished that even more U.S. forces were coming out of Afghanistan. One of them was Dick Durbin, who's the Senate's number two Democrat and a close ally of President Obama.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I have real skepticism about our mission in Afghanistan at this moment. I do not have great confidence in the leadership in Afghanistan, either in its competence or honesty. I worry about the money that we are shoveling into this country in sums that are unimaginable in this poor, undeveloped country.

WELNA: Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Arizona Republican John McCain rose to denounce the president's troop drawdown decision, which in his words posed an unnecessary risk.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Just at the moment when our troops could finish our main objective and begin ending our combat operations in a responsible way, just when they are one year away from turning over a battered and broken enemy in both southern and eastern Afghanistan to our Afghan partners, the president has now decided to deny them the forces that our commanders believe the need to accomplish their objective.

WELNA: And yet, with Osama bin Laden dead and the nation weary of what's become its longest war, President Obama's decision on troop drawdowns arguably came from a position of strength. As Secretary Clinton put it...

Secretary CLINTON: I don't think it's a matter of winning or losing. I think it's a matter of how we measure the success we are seeking in Afghanistan.

WELNA: Good people and very smart people, she added, can disagree about the way forward.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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