Kerry: General's Plan in Afghanistan Too Ambitious

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."

A Call for Helping Afghanistan to Help Themselves

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.

Sen. Kerry Says McChrystal's Afghanistan Plan 'Reaches Too Far, Too Fast'

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.

Building 'Good Governance'

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."

"Achieving our goals, my friends, does not require us to build a flawless democracy. It doesn't require us to defeat the Taliban in every corner of the country or create a modern economy. What we're talking about is good enough governance, basic, sustainable development, and Afghan security forces capable enough that we can draw down our forces," he said, though he expressed serious doubts about the current capacity to develop sufficient levels of Afghan troops.

The State Department said today that it was on pace to meet its goal of increasing the size of the U.S. civilian presence in Afghanistan that includes agronomists, development teams, and other experts to help rebuild the country's infrastructure and institutions. Deputy Secretary of State for Management Jack Lew, who is heading up the effort to get civilians inb the country, told reporters today that the number will increase to the goal of 974 by late December or early next year.

In his speech today, Kerry also challenged two of the leading strategy proposals. He called for a re-examination of whether the counter-insurgency strategy proposed by McChrystal is possible.

"We simply don't have enough troops or resources to launch a broad, nationwide counterinsurgency...campaign. But, importantly, nor do we need to," Kerry said.

He was also skeptical of a more narrow counterterrorism mission supported by Vice President Joe Biden, warning that a more modest mission that "cedes half the country to the Taliban could lead to civil war" in Afghanistan and destabilize Pakistan.

"We all see the appeal of a limited counterterrorism mission, and no doubt it is part of the endgame, but I don't think we're there yet," he said.

Kerry also echoed Defense Secretary Robert Gates in sounding the alarm on continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, saying, "I am particularly concerned about the potential for us ultimately to be viewed – no matter how good our intentions and no matter what efforts we make -- as foreign occupiers."`

"The administration is right to be deeply concerned by the reality that, as our footprint has increased, so have the number of insurgents," he added.

Kerry also endorsed pursuing a reconciliation strategy to peel away some fighters from the hard-core Taliban and support Obama's decision to continue the Bush administration's use of aerial drone attacks inside Pakistan to target terror leaders.