U.S. Can’t Simply Walk Away From Afghanistan, Crocker Says

Ryan Crocker, the Obama administration’s nominee to be the ambassador to Afghanistan, said the U.S. can’t afford to abandon the region and let terrorists regain a haven for planning violence like the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The United States is not walking away from the region,” Crocker said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination. “We will not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

While the death of Osama bin Laden helps hamper al-Qaeda, Crocker said that “much work remains to be done to ensure that al-Qaeda can never again threaten us from Afghanistan with the Taliban providing safe haven.”

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the U.S. needs to reconsider the costs versus potential benefits of U.S. involvement. The “current commitment in troops and in dollars is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable,” Kerry said.

The administration is scheduled to begin withdrawing troops in July, as the NATO-led coalition begins handing over security responsibility to the Afghan government.

President Barack Obama, who has said he will announce his plans for the next stage of U.S. involvement soon, spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for about an hour today via videoconference, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Talk With Karzai

The two leaders discussed the impact of bin Laden’s demise and giving Afghan forces a bigger security role as the U.S. pulls back, Carney said at a White House briefing.

“There was not a discussion of specific numbers” of troops that will be withdrawn, Carney said.

The Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority released a report today that said almost $19 billion in U.S. aid to stabilize Afghanistan may be having the opposite effect, promoting corruption and undermining the Afghan government.

Crocker pledged to find ways to curb corruption, which he said risks triggering “a second insurgency” that “undermines confidence on the part of the people of their government.”

With billions of dollars in aid facing little scrutiny in Afghanistan, Crocker said, “It’s certainly something I’m going to take a careful look at.”

In response to the Senate report, Carney said the notion that Afghanistan has made little progress from U.S. aid “is just simply wrong.”

“We don’t believe its assessment of the overall progress is the same as ours,” he said.

Crocker, 61, has been U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Pakistan and other countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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