At Hill Hearing, Details Sought On Afghanistan-Pakistan Policy

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some Democratic senators joined Republicans yesterday in questioning whether the Obama administration had adequately explained its strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as Congress considers a supplemental appropriations bill that includes billions of dollars for military and economic assistance programs in those countries.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told Richard C. Holbrooke, the president's special envoy to the region, that the administration should delay a vote on the supplemental bill. "We are going to be engaged there for many, many, many years. Many men and women will lose their lives. We're doubling down, and we haven't debated this yet," Corker said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that he had voted for funds for Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan in the past but said that he was "reticent to continuously vote without knowing that there is a strategic plan." He said he wanted a strategy "that brings in the military element, that brings in the diplomatic element, that brings in the economic element, that brings in the intelligence element, that brings in the law enforcement element, that brings in the rule-of-law element. And I don't get the sense that we have that."

Holbrooke insisted there was a strategy: "To defeat the people who pose a direct threat to our homeland: al-Qaeda and its supporters; to stabilize the government of Afghanistan and give it the ability to be self-sufficient in defense of it."

In Pakistan, he said, "We can do more to help the civilian development and economic issues and help them strengthen democracy."

Holbrooke said Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and House and Senate staff members were jointly working out the strategy benchmarks sought by Congress.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) sided with Corker and Menendez and cited his visit to Afghanistan last month. "It is just breathtaking the amount of money, the American lives we've spent there, and you have a government that has control maybe to the outskirts of the capital," Risch said. "I'd love to see an endgame, but I don't know who's smart enough to -- to develop an endgame for us in that country. It's very depressing."

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), meanwhile, voiced another concern: whether the increase of U.S. troops in eastern and southern Afghanistan might make the situation worse for Pakistan as Taliban fighters are forced to retreat over the border. Holbrooke agreed, saying that if the American troops are successful, it "could end up creating a pressure in Pakistan, which would add to the instability."

But Holbrooke also said that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in the region, and his command were in "very intense discussions" with the Pakistani army about that eventuality.

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