Leahy said U.S. troops have done their jobs, but the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have not been good partners in the 10-year long conflict in Afghanistan that has at times spilled across the border into Pakistan.
“They’re performing extraordinarily well under very difficult things, but how long — how long do we support governments that lie to us? When do we say enough is enough?” Leahy asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gates said the actions of those two governments were not uncommon based on his experience.
“First of all, I would say, based on 27 years in CIA and four and a half years in this job, most governments lie to each other. That’s the way business gets done,” he said.
Leahy pressed on, referencing the reported arrest by Pakistani officials of several people who aided the U.S. in its successful mission that killed Osama bin Laden last month.
“Do they also arrest people that help us?” Leahy asked?
“Sometimes,” Gates replied. “And sometimes they send people to spy on us, and they’re our close allies.”
Earlier in the short exchange, Leahy said the cost of maintain troops in Afghanistan has become too high in both lives and money.
“I think, like most Americans, certainly most Vermonters I talk with and an increasing number of members of Congress, I think we have to dramatically accelerate our withdrawal of troops from that country,” Leahy said. “I don’t think we can continue to sacrifice so many lives and spending billions of dollars a week in a war with no end. I think we have to identify achievable goals in Afghanistan. I think we have to reduce our military footprint there,” he said.
Gates said security responsibilities will be turned over to the Afghan forces by the end of 2014. And the cost of the war is declining, he said.
“The costs of these wars is coming down dramatically. The cost of these wars will drop between (fiscal years 2011 and 2012 by $40 billion and between (fiscal years 2012 and 2013) probably by several tens of billions of dollars more,” Gates said.
The U.S. is not engaged in nation-building, Gates said, referring to a growing complaint in Congress.
“What we are trying to do is build the Afghan national security forces to the point where they have the ability to defend that country and so that the Taliban and al-Qaida cannot reconstitute themselves in that country. And I think we are making considerable headway in that respect,” he said. “I know people are frustrated. The country’s been at war for 10 years. I know people are tired. But people also have to think in terms of stability and in terms of the potential for reconstitution. What’s the cost of failure?”
Mullen cautioned against severing ties with Pakistan as relations between that country and the U.S. remain strained. Mullen said security issues will further deteriorate as they did in the late 1980s and early 1990s when ties were severed.
“It’s actually my belief that, if we — if we were to do that again, it may not be five years or 10 years but we’ll be back in a much more difficult situation,” Mullen said.
A posting on Leahy’s Twitter account Wednesday afternoon indicated his displeasure with the responses.
“I asked Secy Gates and Adm Mullen today about ending the war in Afghanistan. I got the same answers in 1975 about Vietnam,” he wrote.
Leahy and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are both signatories of a letter to President Barack Obama released on Wednesday that calls for a “sizable and sustained” withdrawal of troops. The president has said a drawdown of troops will begin this summer.
Two Republicans are among the 27 senators to sign the letter.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., has led calls in the House for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com