- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002


The senior Democrat in the Senate pressed Pentagon officials yesterday for details on how long U.S. troops might stay in Afghanistan, complaining "there's no end in sight in our mission."

The remarks from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, were among the harshest in Congress yet about the anti-terrorism campaign, which the Pentagon estimates will cost $30 billion this year.

Mr. Byrd, whose committee controls spending legislation, took the opportunity during a subcommittee hearing to grill the No. 2 Defense Department official about the war's costs.

"Instead of concentrating on completing our operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seems to be looking for opportunities to stay longer and expand our presence in the region," Mr. Byrd told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. "We seem to be good at developing entrance strategies but not on developing exit strategies. … There's no end in sight in our mission in Afghanistan."

Mr. Wolfowitz said the Pentagon has no clear view of how long U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan or how much the operation might eventually cost. That's because "things change and they change rapidly," he said.

"Everything has gone in ways that are unpredictable," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

The U.S. military spent $7.4 billion from September 11 through the end of January on the war in Afghanistan and domestic security operations such as air patrols over American cities, Mr. Wolfowitz told Mr. Byrd. "Roughly $6 billion" of that was for the war in Afghanistan.

The $30 billion estimate for anti-terror war spending this year is just a guess, based on the assumption that operations will continue at their present rate, Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Under questioning from Mr. Byrd, Mr. Wolfowitz said the Pentagon had no estimate of how much it would cost to help train and equip an Afghan army. President Bush has pledged to do so, but Mr. Wolfowitz said Defense Department officials have not decided on the details.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in the Afghan war, yesterday said he planned to make a recommendation on the Afghan army issue within a week to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Byrd said he didn't want to give Afghanistan or the Pentagon a blank check for unlimited funding, nor did he want the United States to be stuck with troops there for years.

"When will we know when we've achieved victory and it's time to leave Afghanistan?" he asked.

"I can't tell you when we have won," Mr. Wolfowitz replied. "That's something, unfortunately, we only know when the terrorists have stopped."

Mr. Wolfowitz said training an Afghan army will serve to keep Afghanistan from returning to the kind of internal chaos that helped it become a base for al Qaeda, the terrorist network.

"We do not want to see Afghanistan become a haven in three to five years for the same kind of terrorists," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "We have no desire to stay one day longer than we have to."

In his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Gen. Franks said some Afghan forces currently backed by Iran could be brought into the Afghan army.

The head of the U.S. Central Command said Afghanistan's interim defense minister, Mohammed Fahim, believes that the Iran-backed groups "should be integrated into the force being built." Interim leader Hamid Karzai agrees, Gen. Franks said.

In other testimony yesterday, Mr. Wolfowitz said the United States probably will have prototype rockets capable of destroying an enemy's long-range missile available in about two years.

The military plans by September 2004 to have built four prototype interceptors capable of shooting down an enemy missile at Fort Greeley, Alaska, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

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