Senator Kirsten Gillibrand reiterated her support of the July 2011 Afghanistan withdrawal date, despite Republican pressure to move the date back, in a conference call with reporters about her recent trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan this afternoon. She said the withdrawal date is useful as “a political tool.”
“It creates a sense of urgency on behalf of the Afghan people to take security into their own hands. I think it’s a political target date, I don’t think it’s a military target date,” she said. She added that it would have similar effects in Pakistan.
“It also puts pressure on the Pakistan government to really root out these safe havens and understand that we’re not there forever. If they care about their security that they have every interest in the world to make sure these operations are successful now.”
She noted that having a withdrawal date strategy was also effective in Iraq. And although she conceded that the Iraq War was in many ways different from Afghanistan, she said that the timetable caused local leaders in northern Iraq to become responsible for security on their own, thereby forcing out terrorists. “I support it because it’s a good tactic,” she said.
The date will also give Obama another chance to assess his partnership with Karzai’s government and Pakistani leadership, she said. She stressed the importance of their cooperation in building functional, secure, drug trade- and corruption-free economies for the region.
Gillibrand was joined by Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman on the tour, which included meetings with Afghanistan President Karzai and Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani, in addition to General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry. McCain and Graham have both since advocated for a later withdrawal date.
Gillibrand said one of the trip’s goals was to help President Karzai find ways to root out corruption. “Creating a fundamental rule of lawis one of the most important priorities we have,” she said. Currently, people are too afraid to prosecute corrupt government and security officials because prosecutors and judges are often the targets of violence, according to Gillibrand.
According to Gillibrand, Prime Minister Gilani told the senators he is committed to preventing a new generation of terrorists from being bred across the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Gillibrand had a hopeful report of the Helmand province of Afghanistan, which has been peaceful for over a year. There she saw farmers distributing winter wheat to plant and visited a new school servicing 30-40 local boys.
“These areas are the birthplace of the Taliban and they have actually built markets and a school and have brought legitimate farming to the local economy,” she said. “You could really see what the future of Afghanistan could be.”