FPI Bulletin: Suggested Questions for SASC Hearings on Afghanistan

February 11, 2015

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold two important hearings this week on the situation in Afghanistan.  On Wednesday, February 11, former U.S. Ambassadors to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham and Ryan C. Crocker will testify before the Committee.  The next day, General John F. Campbell, USA, the Commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, will speak.  These sessions are critical opportunities for Senators to be updated on the ongoing developments in the country, as well as understand the vital importance of a secure and stable Afghanistan to U.S. and international security.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes the following questions will be helpful for Senators and their staffs as they prepare for these important hearings.

On the Political Situation in Afghanistan

In late January, the Afghan parliament approved only nine of President Ghani’s 25 nominees to the cabinet, with several key positions such as the defense, justice, and economy ministries left vacant. 

  • Ambassadors Cunningham and Crocker, what are the prospects for the speedy nomination and confirmation of essential cabinet posts once the Afghan parliament reconvenes in March?  What factors has led to the current stand-off?
  • Ambassadors, General Campbell, how would you assess the working relationship between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, as well as their government’s performance so far?
  • General Campbell, how has the relationship between the U.S.-led coalition and Kabul changed under the new government?

As Agence France-Presse reported, Afghan national revenues in “2014 fell short of predictions by around 25 percent because the disruption caused by the lengthy election process reduced trade and investment. Former finance minister Mohammad Omar Zakhilwal said the deadlock had cost the Afghan economy around $5 billion, while the World Bank said GDP growth fell from 4.9 percent in 2013 to just 1.5 percent in 2014.”

  • Ambassadors, do you believe that the conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement and the establishment of the Ghani-Abdullah administration will improve Afghanistan’s economic trajectory?  How important is U.S. and international support to Afghanistan’s long-term economic success?

On the U.S. Force Level in Afghanistan

Last November, General Campbell began examining whether or not U.S. forces should remain in Afghanistan for a longer period of time than the President called for on May 27, 2014 .  In written testimony to the Committee, Ashton Carter said that he would “consider recommending to the President revisions to the size and pace of the drawdown plan…in order to adequately address those security conditions.”

  • General Campbell, can you tell this committee what the state of your analysis is and what your conclusions are?  Will you recommend revising the size and pace of the drawdown in Afghanistan in order to address the situation on the ground?
  • When is the latest possible date that you have to recommend changes in the 2016 drawdown to 5,000 troops, and the 2017 withdrawal?
  • Ambassadors, General, do you believe that a conditions-based withdrawal schedule is more likely to achieve the security and human rights gains that we have achieved in Afghanistan?
  • Has the post-withdrawal crisis in Iraq shaped your thinking about the proper future U.S. commitment to Afghanistan?  What lessons do you draw from our experience in Iraq?

The United States was forced to temporarily provide 1,000 additional troops than planned to Operational Resolute Support due to other NATO nations not contributing enough forces to this mission in time.

  • General Campbell, can you update this committee on the status those 1,000 troops?  Will the United States need to cover this “temporary force shortfall” for longer than “first few months” of this year, as Secretary Hagel said?

On the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)

Last year, the CNA Corporation reported that “the security environment in Afghanistan will become more challenging after the drawdown of most international forces in 2014, and that the Taliban insurgency will become a greater threat to Afghanistan’s stability in the 2015–2018 timeframe than it is now.”

  • General Campbell, do you agree that the Taliban will pose a greater threat to Afghanistan’s stability over the next three years than in 2014?
  • Would you also agree with CNA’s recommendation that the ANSF be kept at their present force levels of 350,000 or higher through at least 2018, rather than reduced to as low as 230,000?  Would you further agree that such a reduction would “put the current U.S. policy goal for Afghanistan at risk?

Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson has said that the 9,000 Afghan soldiers and police who have been killed in action over the past two years is “not sustainable.”  He also criticized shortfalls in ANSF recruitment and retention, and warned that the ANSF was “inept” at skills such as basic motor maintenance.

  • General Campbell, how is Kabul working to address the staggering casualties that the ANSF has suffered, as well as its difficulties in recruiting and retraining Afghan soldiers and police?  How is the United States assisting in this regard, and what additional steps would you recommend we take?
  • Do you agree with General Anderson’s assessment that the ANSF lacks skills in such areas like motor maintenance?  How widespread and acute are these difficulties, and in what other areas is the ANSF deficient?
  • Your predecessor General Joseph Dunford testified in March 2014 that Operation Resolute Support will focus on Afghan aviation, intelligence, special operations, and ministerial capacity.  How would you assess Afghan progress in those areas so far, and do you anticipate requiring more time to train the ANSF in those areas?
  • Do you likewise agree with General Anderson that the protracted political wrangling surrounding the 2014 presidential election cost the coalition valuable time to help the ANSF prepare for the post-2016 environment, when all U.S. forces are scheduled to be out of the country?  If so, to what degree has the U.S.-led training effort been hampered?

On the Regional Security Situation

Following the December 2014 massacre of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan began a national crackdown on terrorist groups.

  • General Campbell, how would you rate the effectiveness of this campaign, even at its early stages? 
  • To what degree does achieving a stable and secure Afghanistan rely on Pakistan uprooting these terrorist organizations from its own territory?  Can you detail how the Taliban uses its safe-havens in Pakistan to sustain the effort to destabilize Afghanistan, and how this effort has changed over time?
  • Ambassadors Cunningham and Crocker, what do you believe is the likelihood of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani military sustaining this new offensive over the long term?

The Wall Street Journal reported on February 9 that “representatives of the U.S., China and Afghanistan met for private talks in London, the first time the three countries convened to seek ways to forge peace in Afghanistan”

  • Ambassadors, General Campbell, what do you believe are China’s interests and intentions in Afghanistan and what role do you see them playing in country’s affairs in the future?
  • One of China's interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan relates to its efforts to maintain a strong grip on Xinjiang. In light of Beijing's harsh policies against the Uighur minority group, including forced repatriations from other countries, are you concerned that China will use a larger role in Afghanistan and Pakistan to project its claim that Xinjiang is a “core interest” into other countries’ affairs?

Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim was reportedly killed in a drone strike. He was a former Taliban commander who then swore loyalty to the Islamic State.

  • General Campbell, to what degree has the Islamic State made inroads into Afghanistan?  What would you assess the likelihood of greater ISIS infiltration in the region to be in the future?

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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