Last weekend, I headed to Afghanistan with some of my colleagues to view firsthand the conditions on the ground as a follow up to the new strategy outlined by President Obama.
We met with our troops and senior military officials and, from my perspective there is a lot of positive momentum coming from them. The morale of our troops is high and our commanders on the ground are confident we can win the tactical battle.
The military is pleased with the President’s decision to send additional troops to assist with the mission. I am also pleased that the President is listening to his generals on the ground, even as some of his staunch political supporters strongly disagree with this decision.
We also met with President Karzai and, candidly, I have serious concerns about his ability to make the changes necessary for the victory. President Karzai has a tough job ahead of him. As I see it, there are four key areas that must improve to ensure victory.
First, the corruption that is rampant throughout Afghanistan must be stopped. The influence of corrupt officials in the Afghan government is a troubling problem that will have long-term impacts on stability.
Secondly, while our troops are doing a remarkable job of training Afghanistan forces, the Afghans are nowhere near ready to take over security yet. This is a concern, which must be addressed before our troops return home.
The well-known illicit drug trade is also a core impediment to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, generating what is estimated to be about $70 million – $100 million per year for the Taliban. Afghanistan is the source for roughly 93% of the world’s opium supply. While steps are being taken to reduce this problem, more must be done.
Finally, long-term success is also dependent upon a robust economy in Afghanistan. Afghanistan residents need to know they have a working government and a stable economy so they do not feel compelled to ally with the Taliban for survival.
And progress must be made in Pakistan. They must take an aggressive stand against the militants on their side of the border. Testifying before Congress last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan the “epicenter of extremist jihadism.” The players in Pakistan must step up and instill a zero tolerance policy on harboring terrorists to maintain control of the region.
I was also pleased that today when testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal said he did not see July 2011 as a hard deadline for withdrawal, but a “natural part of what we are doing.” He said withdrawals would begin at that point, but those withdrawals would be based on conditions on the ground. That is the right approach, not imposing artificial deadlines on our military.
Our troops have been fighting this war for several years. The cost of American blood-shed and soldiers’ lives has been high. The debt we owe to the families who have lost loved ones cannot be repaid. But we can and must win this war for the safety and security of all Americans. In speaking with the men and women on the ground, I know they have what it takes to see victory.
Secretary Gates headed to Afghanistan right after we did. His message was clear and mirrored mine, “we are in it to win it.” This war is worth fighting and can be won. But it will take the resolve of all Americans to commit to victory, just as our troops on the ground have done.