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Senator recently completed tour of region

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, headlined a discussion on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan today at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).  Shaheen recently completed a two-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she met with U.S. troops and commanders and senior U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

“As we have heard consistently over the last several months, there has no doubt been militarily significant but fragile progress on the security front, particularly in the south,” Shaheen said in her prepared remarks.  “It is obvious that building the Afghan National Security Forces is now the key to success in Afghanistan and the lynchpin to our transition effort there.”

Shaheen and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) accompanied Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), at his invitation, on the tour last month. It included stops in the national capital of Kabul, the eastern city of Jalalabad, and a forward operating base in the border region.

Shaheen praised the work of Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who she met during her visit and who is responsible for the training and build-up of the Afghan National Security Forces, but expressed concern over the National Security Forces ability to retain members and the Afghan government’s ability to sustain its annual budget of $6 to $10 billion.

“We need a better understanding of how Afghanistan and the international community will be able to continue to pay this significant cost,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen also traveled to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, where she, Merkley and Levin also discussed with Pakistani officials their concerns over Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorist networks, especially the Haqqani and Quetta Shura networks which are operating in the border region. Shaheen noted today that while Pakistan has deployed thousands of troops in to battle extremist groups, and has lost nearly 3,000 troops and 30,000 civilian casualties in the process, the government has not been “willing or able” to take on these two organizations.

“We have to do more to impress upon the Pakistanis that these extremist groups – including the Haqqanis and the Quetta Shura – all represent a threat to Pakistan, and should not be seen as a hedge in Afghanistan,” Shaheen said. “Pakistan is an extremely complex, nuclear-armed country located in a very unstable region of the world. … We cannot simply choose to ignore Pakistan.”

Thursday’s discussion included remarks by Shaheen, a discussion with Andrew Wilder, the Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs for USIP, and a question-and-answer session with the audience. The USIP is an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established by Congress that has worked to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years.  The event, “Progress and Challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Observations from Senator Jeanne Shaheen,” was part of the USIP's Congressional Newsmaker Series.