CAPITOL HILL — The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has held a hearing on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan after the planned withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Some lawmakers expressed concern about the impact of U.S. forces leaving, while others said most Americans have grown weary of the 12-year war.
The chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa is criticizing Democratic President Barack Obama's plan to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of this year. Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says there is no clear withdrawal plan and that there are consequences for leaving hastily.
"Leaving before stability is assured would not only unravel all that we have worked so hard to accomplish in Afghanistan, but would undermine the efforts of our men and women who have served so bravely and have sacrificed so much in Afghanistan," Ros-Lehtinen said.
Several Democratic lawmakers defended the president, saying he focused on achieving realistic goals in Afghanistan and that the country is now better off in many ways, including having a healthier economy and more children going to school. But Democratic delegate Eni Faleomavaega, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War, said that after 12 years, Americans are suffering from battle fatigue.
"In my opinion Madame Chair, the American people never sought an open-ended commitment in Afghanistan, nor did they see the goal as nation-building. They are well aware that Afghanistan has been called 'the graveyard of empires,'" Faleomavaega said.
He said it is now up to the Afghan people to set the course for their future.
But the foreign policy experts testifying at the hearing also expressed concern about the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan after U.S. troops withdraw. Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation pointed to the problems that Iraq has seen after all U.S. troops withdrew from that country.
"My bottom line, as I outline it this afternoon, is that I think it would be detrimental to U.S. national security to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan, as the U.S. has done in Iraq. I think the United States should continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in the country and assist Afghans in conducting counterinsurgency operations after 2014," Jones said.
Jones argued that great progress has been made in Afghanistan, and that a complete pullout could pose a risk to real advances made towards equality for women and a lower infant mortality rate. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation also took an optimistic view, saying five million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, and he said there has not been a comparable return of refugees to Iraq, for example. Additionally, Bergen pointed to a positive sign in Pakistan, even though he acknowledged the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is troubled.
"So the fact that civilian government has completed its terms and that Pakistanis will go to the polls to elect another civilian government, we are looking at a period when we might have a decade on uninterrupted civilian rule, which is enormously important as we look to the future of the region," Bergen said.
Several lawmakers and the experts agreed that the 2014 elections in Afghanistan, and whether they are viewed to be fair and free, will be crucial to the country, and the region's future.