(Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers questioned Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen for a second day on Thursday about President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy.
Here are some of the lawmakers’ remarks and questions:
“I believe the president appropriately narrowed the mission in Afghanistan. What he presented to the American people is not an open-ended nation-building exercise or a nationwide counterinsurgency campaign. Nor should it be.”
“We have largely expelled al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Today it is the presence of al Qaeda in Pakistan, its direct ties to and support from the Taliban in Afghanistan and the perils of an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan that drive our mission.
“What happens in Pakistan, particularly near the Afghan border, will do more to determine the outcome in Afghanistan than any increase in troops or shift in strategy.”
“Some are trying to make much of the president’s target deadline. I think we learned in Iraq that when our policy is to be in another country with troops ‘for as long as it takes’ our hosts are good at taking as long as they want. The president is correct to set a target date.”
SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR, THE COMMITTEE’S RANKING REPUBLICAN:
“We have to ask whether the costs of this deployment are justified in our overall national security context and whether we are mistakenly concentrating our forces to fight a terrorist enemy in a specific location even as the global terrorist threat is becoming increasingly diffuse.”
“Terrorist cells that are associated with or sympathetic to al Qaeda exist in numerous countries in Africa and the Middle East. Terrorist attacks were perpetrated in Europe by homegrown cells. Killing Taliban fighters and training Afghan soldiers and policemen are unlikely to substantially diminish these broader terrorist threats.
“... perhaps most importantly, it is not clear how an expanded military effort in Afghanistan addresses the problem of Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens across the border in Pakistan.”
“The potential global impact of instability in a nuclear-armed Pakistan dwarfs anything that is likely to happen in Afghanistan.”
“To me ... it was anything but a more narrowed mission ... The metrics very much lay out a nation building in Afghanistan. (U.S. special envoy) Richard Holbrooke has got a whole team of people, he would call it rebuilding a nation.”
“Now we talk about coming home in 18 months with our troops ... I realize the coming home part, based on testimony yesterday, was really just a throw-away comment to appease people who are concerned about the buildup.”
“Five months ago when our president asked for additional troops for Afghanistan, I supported that request. It wasn’t easy for me ...”
“We’re told that since we sent those troops that the situation has deteriorated ... So I would ask you, why did the situation get worse in Afghanistan after we sent 21,000 more troops?”
“When I hear these (withdrawal) dates, I believe they are as solid as quicksand.”
“This is putting a lot of eggs in President Karzai, who has been there since 2001 .... What has he presided over? He’s presided over massive corruption, where anywhere between 20 or 40 percent seems to be the going rate for skimming off the taxpayers money.
“Certain members of his family ultimately seem to do very well in business transactions. They travel to some of the best places in the world. They have bank accounts overseas, outside Afghanistan ... I would like to see us condition their travel and their bank accounts to make sure that we are not going to see the continued corruption.”
“I get no sense that we have a Pakistan strategy. We have been talking about offering them a strategic relationship. They don’t seem to want a strategic relationship. They want the money, they want the equipment, but at the end of the day they don’t want a relationship that costs them too much.”
“I just don’t get a sense at this point in time of a comprehensive policy that says I should vote for billions of dollars more to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way in a way that we will ultimately succeed ... I hope I can be convinced before that vote comes but as of right now, I’m not.”
Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington