Senate Democrats

Reid Statement On Gates’ Assessment Of Afghanistan

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and General James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a sobering picture of the conflict in Afghanistan and how the war in Iraq is hampering efforts in the Afghan-Pakistani border region: 

“Just weeks after Admiral Mullen cautioned that we are ‘running out of time’ in Afghanistan and an independent study concluded that we remain ‘dangerously vulnerable’ to future terrorist attacks, Secretary Gates today reminded us yet again just how troubling the situation is in the Afghan/Pakistani border region.  With Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri still on the loose more than seven years after 9/11, Democrats know that America will be more secure only once we responsibly end the war in Iraq and return to the real fight to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban.  But President Bush and Senator McCain continue to ignore the fact that the longer we keep the bulk of our resources in Iraq, the less ready we are able to track bin Laden and reduce surging violence in Afghanistan.”



Secretary Gates Admitted Greatest Threat to U.S. Homeland is in Western Pakistan. When pressed by Senator McCaskill about where the greatest threat to the U.S. homeland was, Gates said, “I think that there has been an interesting evolution of the terrorist threat being strongest in Afghanistan in 2001. By the mid-2000’s, Al Qaida itself was saying that Iraq had become the central front. If you asked me today after the successes that we’ve had against Al Qaida in Iraq where the greatest threat to the homeland lies, I would tell you it’s in western Pakistan.” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]

Secretary Gates Said He Saw Additional Troops Not Ready For Deployment to Afghanistan Until Summer of 2009. Secretary Gates admitted without changing deployment patterns or length of tours, additional forces for Afghanistan would not be available until the summer of next year. “[W]ithout changing deployment patterns, without changing length of tours we do not have the forces to send three additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan at this point. My view is that those forces will become available probably during the spring and summer of 2009.” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]

  • General McKiernan Said He Needed 20,000 More Troops Than Announced By President Bush. “Although President Bush has said he will send an additional brigade, [General David] McKiernan said he needs three brigades beyond that. There are about 33,000 U.S. troops in the country. McKiernan said the brigade arriving early next year, roughly 3,500 troops, would be sent to eastern Afghanistan to counter an increase in violence there. The need for the three other brigades requested by his predecessor, Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, still exists, he said.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/17/08]
  • General Cartwright Admitted Pentagon Not Ready to Give Commanders in Afghanistan All the Troops They Need, Even If Some Troops Left Iraq Quickly. Senator Levin asked General Cartwright, “If we reduced our troop presence in Iraq more quickly, would we be able to meet our U.S. commander in Afghanistan’s request more quickly?” Cartwright responded, “We would not be able to meet the entirety of that request.” He followed with, “We could meet part of it.” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]  

When Pushed, General Cartwright Warned of Extending Tours Beyond 12 Months. When asked about the military’s readiness, Cartwright responded, “From the standpoint of the force, moving us quickly to at least 12-month tours which is what we’re on the path to do for the army will be a big assistance in helping us reconstitute this force, ensure that the equipment gets through the depots and gets up to the top notch that it can get up to in readiness. Those things are well in train. Thanks to this committee and others, we’re getting the resources to do this. But if you add additional stress and take us back towards extended tours, that’s going to wear on the force very quickly. [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]

According to Secretary Gates, 80 Percent of Dry Goods and 40 Percent of Fuel for Afghanistan Flows Through Pakistan. When asked what percentage of logistical functions in Afghanistan began in Pakistan, Gates testified, “about 80 percent of dry cargo and about 40 percent of fuel come through Pakistan.” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]

Should Tensions With Pakistan Escalate, U.S. May Need More Cooperation From Russia. When asked if Pakistan were to cut off routes to Afghanistan, General Cartwright responded by stating that it would be a challenge and that they began planning such a contingency. “It would be challenging to sustain our presence. We have done a substantial amount of planning against a contingency like that, whether it was a complete shut-down or whether it was partial, one of the gates being closed out of protest or something like that.” Senator Webb followed with, “If that were to occur, I would assume, again, from reading press reports, that alternative routes, a good many of them, would go through areas that would require the cooperation of the Russians?” Cartwright responded with, “Potentially. Particularly the pipelines and some of the rail lines. But we’re looking at that challenge as…” [Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, 9/23/08]