Skelton says refocus on Afghan fight
WASHINGTON — U.S. military planners must shift their focus from Iraq to Afghanistan or risk another domestic attack, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.
“If we are going to be attacked again, it will be from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area,” Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said at a meeting with reporters. “We all know they did it before, and we should give priority there so they can’t do it again.”
Skelton, who has pushed for a rapid withdrawal of troops from Iraq, said U.S. forces must increase their efforts to stand up Iraqi security units and “conclude that war” before it further damages the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Asia.
In April, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, told lawmakers that Iraqi soldiers and police have helped improve the security situation there, but that a too-hasty pullout of U.S. troops from the country could erase that progress.
But Skelton said he feels the prolonged conflict in Iraq has worn down soldiers and Marines, making them less able to respond quickly to emerging threats in Afghanistan as well as future threats.
“At some point, our military is not going to be able to perform its mission,” Skelton said.
The House Armed Services Committee is expected to begin debate on the 2009 defense budget in May. Skelton said he would likely push for language to be included in the legislation emphasizing the need for more focus and resources for the fight in Afghanistan, but stopped short of calling for additional troops there.
He also said lawmakers will try to find a way in the legislation to mandate more interagency cooperation, noting the need for nonmilitary skills to help rebuild and stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan.
Skelton said he has been encouraged by cooperation so far between the departments of Defense and State, but said other agencies such as Treasury and Agriculture must play a larger role in rebuilding efforts.
However, the chairman admitted that such an emphasis may be beyond the scope of the defense budget bills, and will likely require a broader effort of several different House committees.