Senators Express Doubts On Afghan War
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The growing wariness and weariness over the war in Afghanistan was on full display yesterday on Capitol Hill. The occasion was an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Richard Holbrooke. He's the special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As NPR's David Welna reports, the diplomat was pressed by both Democrats and Republicans to defend the nearly nine-year war that many of them think is going badly.
DAVID WELNA: The Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic chairman, John Kerry, opened the hearing declaring that Ambassador Holbrooke had been doing, quote, "an outstanding job under exceedingly difficult circumstances." In his written opening statement, though, Kerry had said some suggest the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. He omitted that from his actual remarks, but he nonetheless cast a cloud of doubt on the war effort.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): It would be avoidance if we didn't say that this is a difficult moment in the Afghan conflict. Our progress is decidedly nixed, particularly in the South, where the Taliban are strongest.
WELNA: The panel's top Republican, Indiana's Richard Luger, complained of what he called a lack of clarity on Afghanistan.
Senator RICHARD LUGER (Republican, Indiana): We really have to begin sharpening our pencils as to what our objectives are physically, because the wealth of this country is undeterminable(ph) nor are the casualties of our forces and the number of people we have available. And the thought that somehow this sort of meanders on without there being some definition of metrics I think is unacceptable.
WELNA: Holbrooke told Luger he would go from the hearing back to Afghanistan, where he said he did not yet see what he called a definitive turning point in either direction.
Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan): In terms of your saying sharpen our pencils, I will take this pencil with me and it is very sharp and we will continue to drill down. As both you and Chairman Kerry have said, we are fully committed to this, this effort.
WELNA: For his part, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold called it a good thing that President Obama set July of next year to start redeploying U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): Well, I think a start date alone is insufficient. People in Wisconsin agree. And a new CBS new poll found that 54 percent of respondents now say the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
WELNA: Holbrooke told Feingold he was very leery about setting any end date for a troop withdrawal.
Mr. HOLBROOKE: This isn't Vietnam. This is about our national security. Vietnam was not.
WELNA: Still, senators who've backed the war question whether there's still the will to win it. South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint called the July 20, '11 date for starting troop withdrawals a deadline that's defeating the U.S.
Senator JIM DEMINT (Republican, South Carolina): The people know we're leaving. Even if we make it somewhat flexible, we've made it clear that our commitment's not to finish the job but to leave.
WELNA: Holbrooke insisted, though, that there's no question the U.S. is committed to prevailing in Afghanistan.
Mr. HOLBROOKE: If we walk away from Afghanistan again, as we did 21 years ago, the consequences will be similarly catastrophic.
WELNA: In the end, Holbrooke said, everything depends on Afghans taking over their own security.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.