WASHINGTON (CN) – Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who wields substantial Senate influence on foreign policy, expressed skepticism Monday over the military recommendation to send 40,000 additional troops into Afghanistan. “It’s just too easy for our well-intentioned presence to be misread,” he said. “As our footprint has increased, so has the number of insurgents.”
In a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Kerry said that more soldiers in Afghanistan would only be helpful if military successes could be held long-term by the Afghans themselves, and that this would require strong Afghan forces and a willing population. He also said that the United States should not see a larger goal than simply creating a stable Afghanistan.
He warned against excessively ambitious objectives in Afghanistan. “Achieving our goals does not require us to build a flawless democracy,” Kerry said. “What we’re talking about is good enough governance.”
Before the United States deploys more troops, Kerry said there needs to be a strong enough Afghan force and local leaders to partner with American troops, and that the Afghan population must be incentivized to help the American troops.
“It’s not just clear and hold,” he said in reference to military takeovers. “It’s clear, hold, build and transfer.”
But he appeared critical that these markers had been met, noting that of the 92,000 Afghan forces, only about 50,000 of them are capable of doing an adequate job, and that “Our civilian presence there is disgraceful.”
Improving infrastructure and bettering the lives of Afghans would help to marginalize the Taliban, he said. “A coordinated strategy of good government and economic development is central to any strategy for success.”
Even as Afghanistan continues to produce about 90 percent of the world’s heroine, Kerry admitted that “for the moment, we’re walking by the poppies without destroying them. If all you do is destroy there livelihood, and there’s no substitution, you’re creating Taliban.”
But when asked whether efforts to train more Afghan forces, and boost economic development could be accomplished before additional troops arrive, as Kerry suggests, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, replied that it would not be possible.
“To do that, we have to have a certain level of security,” he said. Development and training would require additional workers who would need to be protected, he explained.
Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a notable player in regards to Afghanistan. He played a major role in convincing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to allow runoff elections, after the results that put Karzai as the winner were contested, and advised Obama last week not to finalize any decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan until after the November elections there.
Obama is still considering how to respond to a request by General Stanley McChrystal, NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, for an addition 40,000 troops. The United States already has 62,000 American troops in the country.
“I believe president Obama has been right to deliberate and take the time necessary to find the best policy,” Kerry said.
“In recent weeks, politics has reduced an extraordinarily complex country and mission to a simple, headline-ready ‘yes or no’ on troop numbers. That debate is completely at odds with reality,” Kerry said. “What we need above all, and what we haven’t had, is a comprehensive strategy, military and civilian combined.”
Kerry returned last week from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Despite his criticism of how the war has been carried out, Kerry did express optimism. He said that 80 percent of Afghans have access to basic health care today, ten times more than in 2002, that infant mortality has fallen 22 percent, and that 6 million kids are now going to school, compared with less than 1 million under the Taliban.
Also, 50 kilometers of paved roads in the country has grown since 2002 to more than 2,500 kilometers today.
Kerry also took the opportunity to support the recent pledge by the United States to give $1.5 billion to Pakistan over the next five years. “No front is more important in our fight against international terrorism than nuclear-armed Pakistan,” he said, “and chaos next door in Afghanistan would have enormous repercussions there.”
Kerry seemed critical also of the discrepancy between American spending in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he said represents a thirty to one difference. In Afghanistan, the United States has spent a total of $243 billion.
Pakistan is now host to al Qaeda, whereas Afghanistan has largely been rid of the group.