U.S. can't fail Afghanistan, Obama nominee warns
International pullout could cripple Afghan economy: Senate report
U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan urged Washington on Wednesday to continue investing in the war-torn country, despite increasing impatience from politicians over rampant corruption and an ever-growing price tag on the decade-long war.
Ryan Crocker's comments came on the same day a U.S. Senate report warned that the planned pullout of foreign troops and international donors in 2014 could cause Afghanistan's economy to collapse.
At his confirmation hearing, Crocker told the Senate foreign relations committee that the goal is "good enough governance" in Afghanistan to ensure the country doesn't "degenerate into a safe haven for al-Qaeda."
Crocker said progress in Afghanistan has been significant but is still fragile and reversible.
"I'm under no illusions of the difficulty of the challenge," said Crocker, a career diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
"If Iraq was hard, and it was hard, Afghanistan in many respects is harder."
The U.S. is expected to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next month. The Obama administration hasn't yet said how many of the 100,000 troops will leave initially.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, the committee's chairman, told Crocker the current U.S. commitment "in troops and dollars is neither proportional to our interests nor sustainable."
The Senate report, released late Tuesday, found limited success in Afghanistan despite nearly $19 billion over 10 years, more than the United States has spent in any other country, including Iraq.
The report found that despite $18.8 billion spent by the U.S. to help stabilize and build up Afghanistan, that nation is at risk of falling into financial crisis when foreign troops leave in three years.
"Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless the proper planning begins now," the report said.
It also questions whether the money and the United States' counter-insurgency focus is making Afghans more reliant on outside forces. The World Bank found that a whopping 97 per cent of the gross domestic product in Afghanistan is linked to spending by the international military and donor community.
The Obama administration is facing mounting pressure from Republicans and Democrats for a dramatic reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at a time of considerable pressure on the federal government's finances. Congress is also expected to target the administration's request for $3.2 billion in foreign aid for Afghanistan in next year's budget.
Obama is expected to announce this month on how many of the 100,000 troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. The drawdown is expected to begin in July.
Obama, Karzai discuss civilian casualties
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke for about an hour by videoconference on Wednesday. The U.S. leader expressed sorrow about recent civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes, according to the White House.
The White House said both leaders noted that most civilian losses are caused by the Taliban.
But White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether Karzai asked the president to halt airstrikes by U.S. Air Force Predator drones.
With files from The Associated Press