WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) believes that the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan has provided the United States with a "relationship-changing opportunity" to reassess its dealings with Pakistan and perhaps Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Memphis Flyer published Tuesday, Corker expressed some of his strongest skepticism to date about the direction of the war in Afghanistan.
"The fact is, if you travel through Afghanistan, as I've done many times, and you talk to our military leaders, they're unbelievably frustrated, because they're fighting a war in a country where our enemies are not," said Corker. "And on the other hand we're providing aid to a country where our enemies are. To me, and this is what I really pressed hard in this last hearing on, this is where our focus needs to be."
Corker noted that he has been "very skeptical about the efforts there [in Afghanistan] for some time," but he is willing to show patience through the summer fighting season, as Gen. David Petraeus has requested.
"But -- our men and women in uniform, I hold them in highest esteem in carrying out their mission, but much of what they're fighting there is just criminality," added Corker. "I mean, one of the areas I was in, there was a prison nearby, there was about 1500 folks locked up there, and only 80 of them were extremists. The other 1420 were there because of criminality. So much of what our soldiers are fighting there is criminality. Again, the head of the monster, if you will, exists in Pakistan."
In January, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that "virtually all" of the Republican members of the Senate stood with the President and his strategy in Afghanistan. But with comments like those coming from Corker and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), cracks may be forming in McConnell's caucus.
Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also commented during a hearing last week on the exorbitant cost of the war in Afghanistan.
"I think the one thing that would stun the American people on the ground in Afghanistan, is how much we are investing in this country, and what we are investing in," he said.
Corker has also joined a handful of his colleagues in calling on the United States to reexamine its relationship with Pakistan. After the death of bin Laden, he wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a letter asking for more details on what the Pakistani government knew about the al Qaeda leader's whereabouts.
"As has been said, either they're [the Pakistani government] in cahoots or incompetent, but this gives us an opportunity now to sort of rearrange that relationship," he said at a recent SRFC hearing on bin Laden's death.
In 2009, President Obama signed into law the Enhanced Partnership With Pakistan Act -- also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill -- which authorizes $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Pakistan through 2013. On Sunday, Lugar and SFRC Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) defended that aid.