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We Must Refocus Our Efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan

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I recently returned from an official Congressional Delegation trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While I have been able to visit our troops in the field in Iraq four times, this was my first trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was immediately sobered by the gravity of the situation there. This is an area of the world that has taken a backseat over the last seven years, and the challenges we face there are serious. The complexities of Afghanistan and Pakistan are much greater than what the military faces even in Iraq, and I believe we need to shift our focus back to these countries.

The war in Iraq has forced our military presence in Afghanistan to operate with half the resources and focus necessary to get the job done. As a result we are playing catch up against a resurgent enemy in the Taliban that is reconstituting and gaining more and more ground, not because they are popular, but because they have faced little to no opposition.

There are also practical issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan that exacerbate the situation. The mountainous terrain in this part of the world is unforgiving, making it difficult to govern. Right now, Afghanistan and Pakistan are not in control of their border regions, allowing people to move freely across a porous border. Even more difficult is that Afghanistan is a war-torn country where a culture of corruption and poverty has weakened institutional structures that would support a successful democracy.

A comprehensive, regional strategy for this part of the world is long overdue. We must engage our allies in this effort, and help Afghanistan militarily and economically. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Ali Zardari, both of whom we met, understand that these wars will be won not by military might, but by being able to offer better opportunities for their people.

The Obama Administration is currently considering a strategy shift in these countries. General McKiernan, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has suggested implementing a 3-5 year strategy that seeks to deny militants safe havens in the region, marginalize the Taliban, develop a proficient and capable Afghan army, contain regional extremism, and perhaps most difficult, develop conditions for a viable government. I look forward to working with President Obama as he considers the direction he will take for the region.

While we were in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed 21 Afghan police cadets in Kandahar, underscoring just what we're up against. Despite this, our troops on the ground remain highly motivated. They really are the best America has to offer. I was able to meet some of our Wisconsin troops stationed in Afghanistan and was, as always, very encouraged to see their remarkably high morale, even in such difficult and dangerous conditions.

I am not going to fool you - securing this region of the world is going to be difficult and it will not happen overnight. Ultimately I believe the choice we face is between allowing Afghanistan to fail and become a safe haven for terrorists, or making a commitment to work hard with the good people we have there who want nothing more than to create a safe and secure future for their citizens. I believe it is in our interest, and the world's interest, to choose the latter.


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