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.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations that a major U.S. troop pullout could trigger a civil war between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
It could also destabilize neighboring Pakistan, he said.
Kerry’s warning came during a comprehensive Obama administration review of U.S. strategies in the two countries.
Kerry rejected the idea of a small-scale, counterterror 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.
Republicans also have argued that President 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.
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.
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.