October 26th, 2009
05:47 PM ET
10 years ago

Kerry treads middle ground on Afghanistan

Sen. Kerry spoke about Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Monday.

Sen. Kerry spoke about Afghanistan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Monday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned Monday against a narrowing of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, but also suggested a plan by the commanding U.S. general in the country is overly ambitious.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that a major U.S. troop pullout could trigger a civil war could between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

It could also destabilize neighboring Pakistan, he added.

Kerry's warning came in the midst of a comprehensive Obama administration review of U.S. strategy in the two countries.

Kerry rejected the idea of a small-scale counter-terror campaign advocated by Vice President Joe Biden, saying it was no substitute for the wider ongoing military campaign.

But he also would not endorse a major troop increase as proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Kerry said McChrystal's request for 40,000 additional troops "reaches too far, too fast."

Kerry just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he played a key role in persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election after Karzai's recent election victory was found to be the result of widespread voter fraud.

By making the case for a middle-ground option - a limited counterinsurgency strategy with the potential for deploying more troops over time - Kerry treaded a fine line between fellow Democrats who oppose a greater stake in the region and Republicans who caution the Obama administration risks losing the war.

Republicans have also argued President Barack Obama will put soldiers at risk by rejecting McChrystal's request.

Kerry gave cover to Obama as the president considers a greater troop commitment to the eight-year war there.

Specifically, Kerry said three conditions must be met before Obama decides to deploy more troops to the region.

First, the United States needs assurances that there are enough reliable Afghan forces to partner with U.S. troops and eventually assume responsibility for security.

Second, there needs to be an increase in support from the country's local and tribal leaders.

Third, there should be a civilian surge to match the military increase.

"Under the right circumstances, if we can be confident that military efforts can be sustained and built upon, then I would support the president should he decide to send some additional troops to regain the initiative," Kerry said.

"Absent an urgent strategic imperative, we need a valid assessment by the president and other appropriate civilian authorities - not just the military - that those three conditions will be met before we consider sending more soldiers and Marines to clear new areas."

Kerry's current assessment of the Afghan government's ability to partner with American officials was grim. He said, among other things, that the United States does not have the "critical guarantees of governance and development

"Deploying additional troops won't result in sustainable gains if the Afghan security, civilian and governance capacity isn't
there," he said.

"And right now, as our generals will tell you, in many places, too many places, it isn't."

Success for the U.S. military effort, Kerry argued, will come when can Americans can "empower and transfer responsibility to Afghans as rapidly as possible and achieve a sufficient level of stability to ensure that we can leave behind an Afghanistan that is not controlled by al Qaeda or the Taliban."

Achieving U.S. goals "does not require us to build a flawless democracy, defeat the Taliban in every corner of the country, or create a modern economy," he argued.

Kerry said increased development efforts could also help with counterinsurgency operations by winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, a strategy advocated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The State Department said Monday it is on track to meet the goal of tripling its civilian staff in Afghanistan, from 320 in January to 974 by early 2010. Kerry echoed comments made in the past by Clinton, saying it was important for civilian workers to be protected with the proper number of troops.

He also emphasized the importance of intensifying support and improving cooperation with neighboring Pakistan.

"Given the balance of our strategic interests, it should give serious pause to military and civilian strategists alike that the current balance of our expenditure between Afghanistan, where there is virtually no Al Qaeda, and Pakistan, where there is, tallies 30-to-one," he said.

Blasting the Bush administration for its "gross mishandling" of the war in Afghanistan, Kerry said the Obama administration was left with "no great options for its handling today."

Still, he continued, "it was not a mistake to go in" after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We now have to choose a smart way forward so that no one is ever compelled to ask whether we've made a mistake in staying," he said.

Filed under: Afghanistan • John Kerry
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. A.B.

    Ultimately, Strategic decisions on how America will proceed in Afghanistan will rest with President Obama in consultation with his Vice-Presidential partner Joe Biden and with his cabinet advisors and not with Senator John Kerry. I think that Kerry should keep quiet and let President Obama gather all the information and facts that he will need to make an intelligent and thoughtful decison in the interests of all concerned.

    October 26, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  2. beachmom

    This is a well thought out assessment of the situation in Afghanistan today. I think the wider debate currently going on (and the inane comments in this thread) is depressingly simple minded for what is a complex problem. What Kerry is arguing for is a limited counterinsurgency strategy that actually has a chance of succeeding. I hope the President takes Senator Kerry's advice.

    October 26, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  3. STILL unemployed in Iowa

    Dont trust Kerry, be truthfull about vietnam.

    October 26, 2009 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  4. jsmith

    How did Kerry get into this picture, I will quotes Joe Biden...."Who Cares"

    October 26, 2009 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  5. Marty, Grand Rapids MI

    Typical "Need to keep my job" answer. If we want to goto war and send more troops then lets start a draft and lets start a war tax. Lets send 5 million people over there and end this. Anything less is wasting money and lives. If we, as a people, are unwilling to do this then we should get out and just spend our time bombing terrorist camps as we find them. Middle of the road is not an answer.

    October 26, 2009 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  6. Jo An

    Build schools in every village and put our troops in them. Buy the entire opium crop from the dealers and teach them how to grow other crops. All of this would not cost as much as the hard ware we have over there. Put drive in theaters in all villages and educate and entertain the people. There is a better way...send our musicians over and do concerts. Go learn their ways...Do PEACE CORE deals. Learn their language. Send film makers over to make films...pay the locals to act...Bring their kids to the U S and enroll them in our universities. So much to do!!! Get crackin'

    October 26, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  7. John R

    I wonder if these wars are meant to be sustained not won ?
    While we are at it, why don't we burn all the poppy plants to reduce drug traffic.
    Obama said he would end the war when he got into office. He said {quote} The first thing I will do is end the war. You can take it to the bank. {End quote} Obama you are a liar.

    October 26, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  8. Nick Blois

    What this government should do to minimize the terrorist threat is to help solve the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians.
    Until this is solved, more troops and bombs will not do much but give the jihadists more resolve against us.

    October 26, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  9. sigmund fraud

    poor old Obama. He is so sad. He can't make a decision. I was proud to see him win the Nobel Prize for Indecision.

    October 26, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  10. The truth

    Republican scum is the absolute worst! We are fighting a war started by President Bush, left to go to the pits by the Bush administration and now having to be addressed by the Obama administration. If the answer was that easy maybe the republican scum would have figured it out in the last eight years! Oh yes, please don't deny this war was started and forgotten by a REPUBLICAN administration. So while I respect your opinion as the constitution allows, I just believe you guys are a bunch of idiots and biggots! I serve in the military, and I just want you REPUBLICAN scum to do me a favor and write your senators and congressmen and ask them "How many of their children are serving in our great military"? This administration has gotten more done in the first year than the last eight years. You guys are dispicable and un-patriotic in my eyes, and this is one of your soldiers speaking!

    October 26, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  11. NavyDoc

    From his statements he doesn't seem to know that the Taliban _IS_ involved in a civil war with the government.

    October 26, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  12. Common Sense

    For those of you who believe that leaving Afghanistan will somehow improve our security and finances, you need to better educate yourself to the reality of the situation.

    First off, we have killed or captured nearly every high level Al Qaeda and Taliban and their replacements. This alone keeps the enemy on the run. They have to continually move and hide, making planning, training, and logistics to attack innocent people around the world very difficult. We leave, then they can plan and execute terror attacks with impunity.

    Secondly, without boots on the ground, we cannot improve the security situation on the ground for the Afghan people. No security, no country. WE left them after WE helped them defeat the Soviets in the 80s. We left them after we promised to help rebuild their country. Look at what happened... the country failed as a state making it fertile ground for the extremists. We cannot afford to do the same thing AGAIN.

    I responded to the attacks in NYC on 9/11... I put my life on the line everyday working emergency services. Lets not repeat 9/11 by trying to only win hearts and minds, because you cant do that without SECURITY and a country that WORKS! GET REAL PEOPLE!!!!

    October 26, 2009 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |

    Well i guess he voted for it before he voted against it. comforting that some things never change.

    October 26, 2009 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  14. Kevin in Ohio

    Good thing he never became president. He wouldn't know WHAT to do. Oh.... I guess we have the same thing with our current president. MAKE.... A..... DECISION, Obama! Your golf game with a female aide can wait.....

    October 26, 2009 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  15. Dan, TX

    This guy is useless.. Nobody is listening to him. Go away...

    October 26, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  16. rjt

    Where's our Sec of state Clinton ? Did Obama throw her under the bus ? She has been absent of Afghanistan, Korea, Israel-Palestine, etc. I am thinking they only brought her in because she could get senate confirmation, then they pull her plug and slide in this clown.

    October 26, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  17. g

    afganistan shoud have been won and done five years ago to late now to much money spent on cheney,s oil war

    October 26, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  18. jk

    Don't listen to Kerry when it comes to war strategy. He's putting the carriage before the horse.

    He blasts the Bush admin. correctly (for not being more proactive in commiting the resources necessary), but only to justify doing the same thing. When is he ever gonna learn that the American public doesn't buy this. That only works in MA.

    "Absent an urgent strategic imperative..." Are you kidding me?? This is where the 911 attacks orginated. This was a terrorist safe haven & can become one again.

    I think we need to examine Kissengers suggestion careful that we provide 100% security to ~60% of the country & est. security quran. This way the people in those area will feel secure and realize we are serious about nation building (to prevent safe havens). Then slowly expand it from there as we build up the Afghan security forces in the areas undercontrol. Have special forces and drones etc. keep Al Queda at bay in the mean time.

    October 26, 2009 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  19. JSRagman

    Bring our boys home and let civil ware break out.

    October 27, 2009 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
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