Sen. Jeff Sessions said it might be too late to reverse the purchase of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military. (Courtesy)
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WASHINGTON — US senators and senior military officials on Thursday discussed US cash for Russian helicopters, the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan and missile defense programs. But a $58.6 billion war-funding request that arrived on Capitol Hill 114 days late received nary a mention.
The questioning from Senate Armed Services Committee members during a hearing that featured President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan was miles wide but only inches deep. Few senators criticized Obama’s plan to have essentially all US forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., did, however, raise concerns about the possible “disappearance of CT capabilities” within the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF). Gen. John Campbell, the nominee to take over command, said ensuring counterterrorism tools and tactics remain in the ANSF’s arsenal is important and is an area on which he would focus, if confirmed.
SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., warned, “the current political uncertainty in Afghanistan stemming from the allegations of election fraud threatens to derail the significant gains made throughout the country.”
Campbell did shed some light on the emerging US approach in Afghanistan, saying American forces likely could conduct CT missions from the Embassy in Kabul. Obama intends to have merely an Embassy-based security force there beginning Jan. 1, 2017.
Asked about his hopes that Afghanistan’s next president will sign a bilateral security agreement defining America’s role there beyond 2016, Campbell said both of that country’s presidential candidates know it’s needed. He said he hopes the agreement is done when he arrives in Kabul, if confirmed.
But there were few fireworks despite the likely next Afghanistan commander’s presence.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, questioned whether the US ignored ethnic diversity with the Afghan military, a flaw he saw in the Iraqi military. But he qualified his question with, “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., typically not shy about throwing fiery statements, seemed resigned to something he and other members of both parties long have opposed: US taxpayer dollars being used to buy Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military.
Rather than grill Campbell about the practice and options for supplying the ANSF with US choppers, Sessions merely said he realizes “it may be too late” to reverse the Mi-17 buys.
Republican senators criticized the Obama administration for submitting its 2015 war-funding plan nearly 114 days after it sent over the base Pentagon request. SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and others promised to closely scrutinize it.
Yet, none drilled down into its specifics with Campbell, the general who would be charged with spending it. None asked Campbell if he proposes to pay for the operations and buy the platforms he thinks he will need to continue US operations there and continue the drawdown. ■