- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

President Obama’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Afghanistan told the Senate on Wednesday that more work is needed to stabilize the war-torn country, despite the death of al Qaeda’s top leader.

“Osama bin Laden’s death is an important step, but much work remains to be done to ensure that al Qaeda can never again threaten us from Afghanistan, with the Taliban providing safe haven,” said Ryan Crocker, the nominee, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The nomination hearing came as committee Democrats released a report critical of the 10-year nation-building effort in the war-torn Southwest Asian state.

Mr. Crocker fielded questions from many senators who expressed concerns about security in Afghanistan after 2014, when U.S. and allied troops will be withdrawn, as well as the mounting costs of the almost 10-year-old conflict.

The 51-page report criticizes the handling of foreign aid programs in Afghanistan and a lack of oversight for contractors used to defend and rebuild Afghanistan.

A main element of the report focuses on Afghanistan’s dependence on international support. The World Bank has said 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is tied to financial support from international donors and military institutions.

“The evidence that stabilization programs promote stability in Afghanistan is limited,” the report says, noting that research “suggests the opposite.”

Mr. Crocker said during the hearing that the United States has spent $19 billion in Afghanistan since 2002.

Some senators expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of quantifiable results of that spending, which they said was due to widespread corruption or inefficiencies.

Mr. Crocker said he hoped to see continued international financial support for reconstruction in Afghanistan, with more private investment, and also greater transparency and accountability.

As for withdrawal plans, Mr. Crocker said that maintaining stability in the country will require continued international support. He said that was true in Afghanistan before 1978 and will be true even after 2014.

“I think part of our obligation is being sure that the international community continues to understand that they have a great deal at stake here,” Mr. Crocker said. “This is not an American problem only or an American obligation.”

Committee Democrats emphasized the tremendous costs of the war.

“Our current commitment, in troops and dollars, is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable, in my judgment,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and committee chairman.

Mr. Crocker served previously as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq and was responsible for reopening the American embassy in Afghanistan in 2002. Although committee members practically guaranteed his confirmation, they grilled the nominee on American involvement in Afghanistan for nearly two hours.