Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday morning that the civilian surge in Afghanistan has peaked, a message that complements President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday night that the United States will withdraw its "surge" troops from the country by next summer..
"We have now reached the height of the civilian surge," Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Looking ahead, as the transition proceeds, we will shift our efforts from short-term stabilization projects to longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth and integrating Afghanistan into South Central Asia's economy."
The State Department and USAID have more than tripled the number of diplomats, development professionals, and other experts in Afghanistan since 2009, resulting in economic growth, less opium production, and greater educational opportunities for Afghans, she said.
"The aim of our civilian surge was to give Afghans a stake in their country's future and provide credible alternatives to extremism and insurgency -- it was not, nor was it ever designed, to solve all of Afghanistan's development challenges. Measured against these goals, and considering the obstacles we face, we are and should be encouraged by how much has been accomplished," Clinton said.
The focus going forward will be on diplomacy and supporting a reconciliation process that separates the insurgents from the terrorists, she added. Clinton promised that the United States would continue to push for the human rights and values that it has been espousing throughout the conflict.
"Any potential for peace will be subverted if women are marginalized or silenced. And the United States will not abandon our values or support a political process that undoes the social progress that has been made in the past decade," she said. "But we believe that a political solution that meets these conditions is possible."
She did not give details about how the structure or size of the civilian surge would change as U.S. forces begin to withdraw.
As part of the drive for a political solution, the "core group" of the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will meet for the third time next week, Clinton announced. The lead U.S. official in this effort is Special Representative Marc Grossman.
Clinton called on Pakistan to be an active player in the reconciliation process, and to improve its bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. Clinton also made the fiscal argument for civilian power, noting that "an entire year of civilian assistance in Afghanistan costs Americans the same amount as just 10 days of military operations."
Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) opened the hearing with a full throated endorsement of Obama's plan to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and the remainder of the 33,000 surge troops by next summer.
"Because of the gains made in Afghanistan and in the intervening months, I believe it was from a position of strength that the president was able to lay out the next phase of our Afghan strategy," he said, echoing Obama's remarks nearly verbatim.
Kerry called the drawdown plan "significant" and portrayed it as a way to reap the benefits of the surge.
"If you really stop and think about it, we have met our major goals in Afghanistan as articulated by the president," he said. "We have come to the point where this mission can transition."
Kerry also warned Clinton that Congress was growing more and more disillusioned with the U.S. investment in Pakistan, even as Pakistan has increasingly become the center of gravity in the battle against al Qaeda.
"In many ways, the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to the main event next door," Kerry said. "Every senator is asking questions about this relationship and the appropriations people are particularly troubled as they try to figure out what's real in this relationship."
Kerry's GOP counterpart, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), called for more details from the administration and a realistic definition of success in Afghanistan.
"Troop withdrawals are warranted at this stage, but... our president should put forward a plan that focuses on more narrow goals for Afghanistan based on vital national interests and a more sober analysis of what can be achieved," Lugar said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.