In the final installment of my recent interview with 2nd CD congressman, Rick Larsen, he gives us his thoughts about the firing of Afghanistan mission commander, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, and the ongoing operations in that country. I prefaced my question about Afghanistan on the fact that we are in our 9th year of operations there and that, as predicted (with the Obama surge in affect) US casualties are on the rise. On the morning of the interview, the DoD had just released the names of 7 US service members killed there; bringing the total number of US troops killed in Afghanistan in June to well over 50 and suggested that the month would see upwards of 60 Americans killed. Larsen sits on the House Armed Services committee and, while he voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2002, he has since voted for every military appropriation for both Iraq and Afghanistan. With another vote coming up as soon as today for another $33 Billion for our continuing operations there, I think it is critical to know how he feels about the operation and it’s value both in lives and dollars. He began with his thoughts on Gen. McCrystal.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA02)
(Photo – ricklarsen.org)
“First let me say this about General McCrystal. General McCrystal is a great soldier. He is responsible for some of the toughest work that was done in Iraq. He did some of the most important work that was done in Iraq and he deserves; honestly, as a soldier he deserves the thanks of our country. The unfortunate thing for Gen. McCrystal is that he created a command environment that undermined the time honored and constitutionally prescribed tradition of civilian leadership over the military and you can’t have that kind of command environment because that undermines the mission in Afghanistan. I will say this; that is not what the problem is in Afghanistan but it undermines the mission. So the president, as Commander in Chief made a Commander in Chief decision; one that I support. But again, this should not take away from Gen. McCrystal’s contributions to this country. We thought he was the right man for this job and he apparently was not.
The two bigger challenges we face right now in Afghanistan are in training the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). The training of those two security forces is very important in order to have an effective draw down beginning in July, 2011. And I expect that we will be able to start a preliminary draw down in July, 2011. But the second part is more difficult and it’s not the military’s job. And this has to do with the corruption in the Afghan government; at all levels. I don’t think we shouldn’t expect a Jeffersonian democracy in Afghanistan but I don’t think it’s too much to ask the Afghani people that the have a government that can deliver basic services, that can deliver basic security, and that cares about the security of its own borders. If we can move the Karzi government and the provincial governments toward that end, that is probably going to do more to create a secure Afghanistan for the Afghans by the Afghans than anything else.
With regard to casualties; it’s always disheartening, it’s troubling, it’s sad when men and women die in battle. And I think it’s important that the president did reiterate ultimately what the goal is in Afghanistan. And that’s really about remembering that Afghanistan was the launch pad; was the planning department for Al Qaida in the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was a safe haven that a Taliban government provided. And, if we don’t keep that lesson in our hearts the potential exists for the that lesson to be learned again. That’s why it’s important, in our own national security interests, to do what we can, working with the Afghans to build a country that’s secure in its borders, that has a government that provides basic services – including basic security services. That means, in some parts of Afghanistan like the south where a lot of these casualties are taking place, we’re going to have a higher casualty rate. Because our Marines and Army, supported by our Air Force and Navy, and by the State Department, our civilians, are going in to these towns that are Taliban footholds and we’re fighting. And the challenge we’re going to face there is ensuring that we do not create more insurgents by killing civilians. And so it’s going to be, by definition, a tougher slog because we have to be more particular about operations and more particular about who we try to capture and who we try to kill. As we should be in order to decrease the number of civilian casualties.
That’s difficult for a lot of folks, especially in the Progressive community; and I recognize that because the Progressive community has largely said that they want the US military largely out of Afghanistan and rather we shift to a civilian surge and an international aid surge and so on. I do too but we’re not there yet. It is flat out not safe enough yet in Afghanistan. And the lack of safety does not have to do with the fact that our military is there the lack of safety has to do with the fact that the Taliban still holds a lot of areas and still is holding out to try to be the government in Afghanistan. And the Pakistan Taliban and Al Qaida safe havens in Pakistan are still operating and Al Qaida especially is still going over the border in to Afghanistan. That’s why it’s unsafe. It’s not unsafe because the US military is there. But, we’re going to get there because it’s in our national security interest to do that. And I have confidence in the strategy at this time that it is going to happen. It’s just a tough area.”
Since Rep. Larsen sat down with me on Saturday we have seen the unanimous confirmation of Gen. David Petraeus by the US Senate to take over command of the Afghanistan operation and the US death toll in Afghanistan for the month of June currently stands at 60 US service members.