Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., today said the strategy submitted to the White House by the top American commander in Afghanistan "reaches too far, too fast" and called for a more narrow, modest mission that he says will eventually enable the U.S. to draw down its military presence there.
"I believe that, if we redefine our strategy and objectives in order to focus on what is achievable, as well as critical, and empower the Afghans to take control of their own future, we will give all of us the best chance to succeed," he said.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal last month submitted a strategy to the Obama administration that calls for a counter-insurgency strategy and requests tens of thousands of additional troops to carry it out. Kerry said he could support a modest increase in troops in the short term, saying, "Under the right circumstances, if we could be confident that military efforts can be sustained and built on, then I would support the president, should he decide to send some additional troops to regain the initiative."
Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations today, Kerry called for a sustained civilian commitment to Afghanistan, but said the authority must soon shift to Afghan governance and security institutions.
"The nature of our commitment has to evolve away from U.S. military-dominated effort toward support for Afghan institutions and Afghan answers," Kerry said.
"We need to ask ourselves at every turn, will what we do, will this help the Afghan people take responsibility for their country? And if the answer is no, we probably shouldn't be doing it," he added.
Kerry's remarks come one week after he helped secure Afghan President Hamid Karzai's support for a new election after a watchdog group concluded that thousands of votes he received in the August ballot were fraudulent. Kerry was in the country on a fact-finding trip, but stayed on to help broker the agreement between Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.
Kerry defended President Obama's deliberations over whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan and lashed out against critics, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who says the administration is taking too long.
"After eight years of neglecting Afghanistan as vice president, Dick Cheney has now come out of retirement to criticize President Obama for taking time to examine assumptions before sending troops into war, this from the man who, in 2002, told America, quote, "The Taliban regime is out of business permanently." I think this is one time I wish Dick Cheney had been right, but tragically, he wasn't and he isn't today," Kerry said.
He also spoke out against the political debate over a troop increase, saying it over-simplified a complex situation.
"In recent weeks, politics has reduced an extraordinarily complex country, an extraordinarily complex region, and a difficult mission to a simple, headline-ready yes-or-no on troop numbers. That debate is completely at odds with reality," Kerry said.
Kerry advocated dialing back U.S. goals in Afghanistan as they had been previously defined, saying "we don't have to control every hamlet and village."