Opinion Piece on Pursing Peace & Security in Iraq and Afghanistan
By James Langevin
Our nation's long-term commitment to securing and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan remains strong, and nothing compares to experiencing the front lines firsthand. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I recently led a small group of my colleagues to these two critical war zones to learn more about our current obligations, and what those on the ground -- our military, diplomats and non-governmental organizations -- think our role and responsibilities should be in the years to come.
I was last in Iraq in 2004, when the war - which I did not vote for - was in its infancy. Five years later, after a period of dramatically deteriorating security, I was pleased to see the situation on the ground improving, due to the hard work and sacrifice of our troops. Insurgents remain a significant concern, and Iraqi security forces are not where they need to be, but the country is moving towards peace.
After landing in Baghdad, we traveled to Camp Victory, where we were briefed by US Ambassador Christopher Hill, along with General Raymond Odierno, commander of the multinational force, and his top staff. We were also able to travel north to Joint Base Balad, where we met with senior commanders and toured the military field hospital. I was truly awestruck by the facility and by the dedicated medical team that treats our wounded service members arriving from the battlefield.
While I have always felt that the war in Iraq was one of choice and not necessity, I do believe we are winning. I also support President Obama's decision to end our military presence there and shift our resources to non-military missions such as rebuilding the infrastructure and economy. Establishing a functioning democracy in this part of the world is of paramount importance to keeping our nation secure.
It is also critical that we return our focus to Afghanistan, which was the second leg of our trip, comprised of meetings and briefings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his top ministers, as well as US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, General David McKiernan and other US military commanders and various non-governmental organizations, or NGOs. The challenges there are daunting, with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorizing the north and the opium trade surging again in the south, and there is an urgent need to improve the security of our troops, the NGO community and Afghan citizens. President Obama has called for an increase in troops, which I strongly support. Based on my conversations with those on the ground, I believe still more may eventually be needed, but I trust our military commanders to decide what that increase should be.
It was apparent to me that we have paid the price by diverting our attention to Iraq. The US is only now committing the resources it should have from day one to defeating the Taliban. As in Iraq, I am confident we can turn things around in Afghanistan and leave behind a stable democracy. As more coalition troops are deployed to the region and we work to build the capacity of Afghan security forces, we will begin to win back the trust of the Afghan people. And with the help of our international partners, the Afghan government as well as Pakistan, we can eradicate the Taliban insurgency that nurtured the violence brought to our shores on September 11th.
Aside from assessing the combat situation, my chief concern was for the morale of our service members. I am always impressed when I meet our commanders and troops with their dedication to the task at hand, and my experience on this trip proved no different. These brave men and women are committed to bringing peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan and understand all too well the importance of their mission. As time moves on, their strong sense of duty should not be forgotten by any of us. Meeting with these patriots on the front lines only strengthened my commitment to them and to ensuring their safe return home.
The road to victory in Iraq and Afghanistan will be long, but it is within our reach. I look forward to continuing my work on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees to ensure our troops are supported, our tax dollars are spent wisely and our mission is successful.