The State Department will soon begin reducing its presence in Afghanistan and consolidating its people into only a few locations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told State Department employees today.
Meanwhile, back at home, she promised State would continue to improve conditions for Washington employees, including building more lactation rooms for new mothers and allowing Internet users to choose Google Chrome as their web browser. She also said she is relieved to be on her way out of politics and is not even watching the GOP presidential debates.
"As the transition continues in Afghanistan and the military footprint draws down and transitioning areas are transferred to Afghan lead, our civilian mission will have to shift its focus from stabilization and support to the military to long-term development and building Afghan capacity," Clinton said at a Thursday morning town hall meeting at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters.
"We have over 450 civilians right now embedded in nearly 80 locations with the military, primarily U.S. but also NATO ISAF forces. We will be gradually consolidating at -- our present thinking is, into four enduring State-led locations. And our staffing will be drawn down as the military draws down," she said. "That process is just beginning.... But we're starting that work right now."
Clinton also reiterated that she intends to step down if President Barack Obama is reelected, but pledged she would stay through the election and work as hard as she can until her last minute in office.
"I think, after 20 years -- and it will be 20 years -- of being on the high wire of American politics, and all of the challenges that come with that, it would be probably a good idea to just find out how tired I am," she said.
Clinton warned her employees that the election season would "suck up a lot of the attention" from foreign policy issues. "But the good news is, you know, maybe we can even get more done if they're not paying attention," she said. "So just factor that in."
She also called on Congress to pass legislation to support the implementation of the State Department's first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which Clinton unveiled last year. The legislation, which could be included in State's authorization or appropriations bills, would make sure the bureaucratic changes Clinton has made at State continue after her departure.
"We are expecting [the QDDR] to be legislated.... And if it's legislated, it will be continued. So that's how we see it," Clinton said.
Addressing the daily concerns of her staff, Clinton also promised that the State Department would open more lactation rooms inside the building, so new mothers have an easier time balancing their work and family responsibilities.
"I also have been made aware of the desire for more lactation rooms," Clinton said. "I think we've added numbers to that, and we are in the process of trying to develop a policy to increase the numbers."
One questioner asked Clinton why the State Department won't allow them to upgrade their Internet browsers, which run an old version of Internet Explorer. Clinton received loud applause when she announced that help was on the way.
"So today I'm happy to announce ... that Google Chrome will be deployed worldwide on February 14th," she said to cheers and applause. "That's my Valentine's present to all of you. Internet Explorer 8 will be deployed on March 20th."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.