The number two official in the State Department says Taleban forces remain a serious threat in Afghanistan, but have not been able to disrupt preparations for the upcoming election in October. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also says though cooperation from European and other nations in Afghanistan has been mixed, the United States can still rely on long-term allied support for security and the growth of democracy there.
This was the second appearance by Mr. Armitage before a House committee since last week when he testified about another topic high on the list of lawmaker's concerns, the situation in Iraq.
The focus Wednesday was on preparations for elections in Afghanistan amid what administration officials acknowledge is a worrying security situation leading up to October 9, when several million Afghans who have registered will vote.
In this exchange with Kentucky Democrat Ben Chandler, Mr. Armitage was asked to assess security in the run-up to the election.
Chandler: But it is true that we have not finished the job in Afghanistan?
Armitage: Nowhere near it.
Chandler: And the Taleban is still active, still operative, and still apparently dangerous.
Armitage: I think they are.
In numerous hearings, lawmakers have expressed their impatience with what they view as less than satisfactory efforts by the Bush administration to pressure EU countries, and others such as Turkey, to contribute more troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
"Why isn't the administration making a strong effort to have Turkey deploy significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan," asked Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos. "Because this experiment in Afghanistan may yet fail, as you know better than I do. And I think we will deeply regret our unwillingness to tell the Europeans, and the Turks, and the Egyptians and others, that they have a responsibility. And pretending that these nominal contributions are adequate totally undermines our case."
Mr. Armitage provided what he called the philosophical observation that the United States may, in the long run, have to accept that it must shoulder most of the security burden in places such as Afghanistan.
But he had this comment when asked about chances for greater cooperation from European and other allies.
"We also have the feeling that [as] slow and unsatisfactory in some cases as both security and aid [are], that most of our European friends are still in it, they're not going to shy away, they're not quitting, they're just not going fast enough as far as we're concerned, so I think it's a mixed picture but it's much more perception than it is reality," said Mr. Armitage.
Turkey has contributed about 200 troops to U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, which some lawmakers have described as shameful for a member of NATO.
Deputy Secretary Armitage says he believes the Turkish contribution could be increased, adding he will be making another diplomatic approach to Turkey.
A number of countries, but principally Britain and Germany, have assisted the U.S. led effort in Afghanistan.
In his testimony, Mr. Armitage called the level of voter registration "phenomenal and staggering," and referred to a recent public opinion poll, cited frequently by the administration, showing 85 percent of the Afghan people believe the country is on the right track.
He says President Bush has made it clear to President Hamid Karzai that despite the situation in Iraq, the United States remains committed to democracy and security in Afghanistan.