The Wall Street Journal: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) had a simple question Wednesday for three of the Obama administration’s top Afghanistan specialists: How many American troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year?
None of the witnesses at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan had an answer.
How much is the U.S. spending in Afghanistan? Mr. Rohrabacher asked.
No one could say.
“We’re supposed to believe that you fellas have a plan that’s going to end up in a positive way in Afghanistan?” Mr. Rohrabacher asked. “Holy cow!”
Mr. Rohrabacher’s incredulous questioning came during a two-hour hearing on U.S. policy in Afghanistan that revealed increasing congressional frustration with U.S. policy as the administration tries to rescue its plan to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan through the end of this decade, if not beyond.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) called the witnesses’ inability to rattle off the facts “a stunning development.”
“How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” the answers? He asked. “Like that wouldn’t be a question the tip of one’s tongue.”
Ambassador James Dobbins, the administration’s top envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, eventually provided some facts: The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development spent about $2 billion a year and there have been about 2,200 “casualties” since 2001.
In fact, there have been 2,292 American fatalities since 2001. So far this year, 113 Americans have been killed, the lowest number of U.S. fatalities since 2004, according to iCasualties, the website that tracks U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) later noted that the U.S. spends about $6.7 billion a month on the war in Afghanistan.
The idea that U.S. officials didn’t have basic facts about the war in Afghanistan on the tips of their tongues seemed apt for a conflict that has fallen off the radar in Washington, where battles over the budget, President Barack Obama’s health care program and talks with Iran have eclipsed interest in America’s longest war as it winds to a close.
Mr. Dobbins came to Congress this week to reassure lawmakers that stalled talks over a long-term security deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai were not destined for failure. He had testified Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Dobbins expressed confidence that the deal would eventually be signed.
But Democrats and Republicans both expressed frustration with Mr. Karzai, who surprised American and Afghan officials last month by refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that both countries spent the last year negotiating.
“The patience of the Congress and the American people is wearing thin,” said Rep.Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), the committee’s top Democrat.
Mr. Dobbins was joined at the hearing by Michael Dumont, the Defense Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, and Donald “Larry” Sampler, the assistant to the administrator in USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs.
All three sought to assuage lawmakers concerns about Mr. Karzai and U.S. policy.
Mr. Rohrabacher delivered the hearing’s most caustic criticism.
“I think we are groveling again,” he said. “Maybe this is the grovel administration… This is insanity and it’s time for us to get our butts out of that country, not for their sake, but for our sake.”