Earlier this month President Obama announced his plans for a new way forward in Afghanistan. He laid out clear objectives for a troop level increase, underscored the importance of strengthening Afghan security forces and outlined the strategic necessity of success in the region. I believe the President made a very compelling case for why it is absolutely critical that America defeat al Qaeda and prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies.
The most significant aspect of the President’s announcement was his call for a deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. forces and additional troops to be provided by our NATO partners and other international allies. While I would have been more comfortable with the original recommendation of General McChrystal to increase troops by 40,000, I am still pleased with the decision to bolster our presence in the region. The men and women of the Armed Forces are fighting a tough battle on multiple fronts against an increasingly sophisticated enemy. Providing additional manpower and resources to our troops is vitally important as we move forward.
I am, however, deeply troubled by the President’s suggestion that our troops be withdrawn after 18 months. While I have tremendous faith in the ability of the United States soldier to accomplish his or her mission, wars are not fought on timelines. Conditions on the ground and well-defined benchmarks should be the measure used when deciding if troops should come home – not arbitrary timelines.
By telegraphing our intention to abandon the battlefield based on the calendar rather than the progress of our mission, we simply embolden the terrorists to wait us out. Not only does this put our soldiers at greater risk, it also undermines the long term authority of the legitimate Afghan government. The bottom line is this: the terrorists must be defeated and if that takes longer than 18 months, and I strongly suspect it will, then we have to stay until the job is done.
The American public deserves political leadership that is as committed to winning this war as our soldiers are. After committing an additional 30,000 troops, the President has a responsibility to fully embrace his role as the Commander in Chief. This will entail rallying the public to support our troops, and building a genuine bi-partisan coalition in Congress to continue the hard work that lies ahead.
There is no doubt that the President has committed our nation more deeply to Afghanistan. It is my belief that we must move forward with determination and a will to win by dismissing arbitrary timelines that undermine the efforts of our forces and our allies. Our soldiers have shown both these qualities on the battlefield and now the President needs to follow their example.