Chairman: Administration Sending 'Mixed Signals' on Afghanistan 'Zero Option'
When reports began to circulate earlier this week that the Obama administration is considering pulling all troops from Afghanistan after 2014 -- the "zero option" -- House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) sought and received assurances that the strategy wasn't heading in that direction.
On Tuesday evening, McKeon said "senior administration officials assured me that there is no 'zero option' scenario under consideration."
"I was assured that the United States has committed to post-2014 support to include troops on the ground. I was further informed that a 'zero option' would violate American commitments to the Afghan people," he said. "News of the 'zero option' damages our position in Afghanistan, erodes our standing with our allies, emboldens the Taliban, and demoralizes our troops. I call on the President to confirm the assurances of his senior officials and clarify his 'zero option' position."
Three days later, McKeon has received enough reports to the contrary to pose the concern directly to President Obama in a lengthy letter.
"I agree that in order to commit U.S. forces to Afghanistan, we must have a capable partner in the Afghan Government willing to meet certain reasonable conditions. I further understand that President Karzai has been non-committal and truculent when it comes to meeting those conditions. But, your Administration’s policies have not helped. For example how does negotiating with the Taliban about Afghanistan’s future, while excluding Afghanistan’s elected government- support your own stated goals?" McKeon wrote.
Announcing such an accelerated withdrawal with the consideration of no residual force emboldens our enemies while weakening Karzai, the chairman argued.
"Syria is engulfed in civil war. Iraq teeters on the brink of civil war. And experts have warned that premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could open the door to that nation’s third civil war in as many decades. Given the national security interests you accurately described in your West Point speech, would U.S. security be better served by abandoning Afghanistan to its uncertain fate, or by helping a difficult, but fledgling democracy stand and endure? Have senior military leaders or intelligence officials formally recommended this course of action?" McKeon wrote.
"...Perhaps most concerning is the pervasive sense of confusion that has sprung out of a national security policy that shifts as fluidly as sand."
To that end, he noted "mixed signals" received from administration officials. "One told me plainly that the zero option was never under consideration. That completely contradicts the statements of both the White House and Pentagon press secretaries, both of whom insist your Administration is giving serious thought to a complete withdrawal. It is more than a little troubling that your advisors were informing congress that no zero option is being considered on the same day that your spokesman tells the press such an option is under consideration."
"...I must ask that, if the zero option is under serious consideration, your Administration explain how our national security and that of our allies is advanced by that strategy."