US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen went before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington today. The panel was giving testimony related to President Obama’s plan to send more US troops to Afghanistan. The World’s Jason Margolis reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: President Obama’s new plan for Afghanistan was under scrutiny on Capitol Hill today. The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, were there to field questions. Many of those questions focused not on the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, but on this part of the president’s speech.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: These additional and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.
WERMAN: Senators from both parties wanted more specifics on that. The World’s Jason Margolis has more.
JASON MARGOLIS: Senators were each given six minutes to question the Panel. Senators from both parties were largely supportive of the President’s new Afghan strategy, but one after the other most Senators asked the same question worded slightly differently. Here’s Republican John McCain asking about the July 2011 timeline.
JOHN MCCAIN: Will we withdraw our forces based on conditions on the ground, or based on an arbitrary date, regardless of conditions on the ground?
MARGOLIS: Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered this response, which he repeated many times throughout the hearing.
ROBERT GATES: We will begin the transition in local areas in July of 2011. We will evaluate in December 2010, whether we believe we’ll be able to meet that objective.
MARGOLIS: That answer failed to satisfy many senators. Some, like McCain, thought it represented the wrong strategy. Some senators thought the answer was too vague. Here’s Lindsay Graham, Republican from South Carolina questioning Gates.
LINDSAY GRAHAM: Will the evaluation decision be how fast we withdraw, or whether or not we should withdraw?
GATES: I think it will be principally whether the strategy we put in place is working.
GRAHAM: Is it possible in December 2010 to reach the conclusion it is not wise to withdraw anyone in July 2011? Is that possible?
GATES: I think the President in Commander-In-Chief always has the option to adjust his decision.
GRAHAM: So it is not locked in?
MARGOLIS: Graham posed the same question to Secretary of State Clinton.
HILARY CLINTON: Well, Senator Graham, I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving. But what we have done, and I think it was an appropriate position for the President to take, is to signal very clearly to all audiences that the United States is not interested occupying Afghanistan, we are not interested in running their country, building their nation. We are trying to give them the space and time to be able to build up sufficient forces to defend themselves.
MARGOLIS: That answer fed the next major line of questioning senators wanted answered about the President’s new strategy. Here’s Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
JAMES INHOFE: You see so many of these young, healthy Afghans that are walking the streets who ought to be in the military. What can we do differently than what we’ve done in the past to encourage a greater participation?
MARGOLIS: Gates answered that one with a monetary response.
GATES: In many instances the Taliban actually pay more than the Afghan government. And so one of the things that particularly in terms of retention is to increase their pay, and I think most people believe that will have a real impact.
MARGOLIS: Besides getting more Afghans involved, Senators pressed the Panelists how they would get NATO members to commit more troops. That’s a question the Panelists didn’t answer with any certainty, to the frustration of some Senators. Senator Graham pressed the issue, asking Secretary Gates to give the NATO allies a grade between an A and an F.
GATES: Senator, in all honesty, I don’t think any good purpose is served by doing that. I would say that those of us, those that have been fighting with us in the South, the Australians, the British, the Dutch, the Danes, the Canadians the Poles, I’d give them all an A.
MARGOLIS: Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton and Admiral Mullen will face more questions about the Administration’s plan for Afghanistan at another committee hearing tomorrow. For the World, I’m Jason Margolis
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