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A Message From Betty Sutton Regarding The Future Of U.S. Involvement In Afghanistan

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The U.S. is currently at a crossroads with our Afghanistan strategy. We face tough choices with no perfect options. The tragic attacks on September 11, 2001, combined with the Taliban's refusal to deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda extremists necessitated the U.S., in collaboration with its NATO allies, to launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The invasion was launched with the core goal of denying Al Qaeda the use of Afghanistan as an operational haven for terrorist activities.

More than eight years later, we are asking tough questions about our continued involvement in Afghanistan. In evaluating the situation, there is a wide range of opinions and voices arguing the merits of different goals and the different strategies by which we should achieve them. There are no easy answers to this debate, however we must start by delineating between our uncompromising core goal of eliminating threats to U.S. domestic security and any secondary goals we may have. My decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan hinges upon whether or not increasing the number is vital to our core goal of national security. As I make this important decision, I am taking into account the recommendations of the Administration and our military, the concerns of my constituents and the interests of our service members.

It should be understood that our military leaders are necessarily charged with a precise focus on finding military solutions for Afghanistan. Due to the nature of their position, their examination of potential solutions is limited to the use of force. John Nagl, co-author of the military's counterinsurgency field manual, has stated that victory could require up to 600,000 U.S. and Afghan security forces and a commitment of at least five years. Some argue that the commitment of time would necessarily have to extend far beyond five years.

Others argue that a military solution is not the answer and that the U.S. should no longer expend our blood and resources on this war in a country where we are not wanted. I am of the belief that we should not ask our brave troops and their families to continue to sacrifice without a clear, defined mission with achievable results. To date, that mission has not been set forth.

Evidence indicates that much of the increasing violence and insurgent activity in Afghanistan is directed at the continued U.S. military presence. Expert witnesses before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee testified that the Al-Qaeda organization has been operationally weakened, and its ability to attack the American homeland is greatly compromised. These factors, coupled with the ongoing loss of troops and resources, must lead us to consider responsibly deploying troops out of Afghanistan, while still retaining a sufficient force focused on preventing Al-Qaeda's return.

We must also be mindful that U.S. values require compassion for the plight of millions of innocent Afghans who have long been plagued by poor governance, corruption, and human rights abuses. As Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times recently pointed out, we could build 20 schools in Afghanistan for the cost of stationing a single additional soldier there for one year. However, any successful efforts to engage in nation building require effective and active partners within the Afghan government, as well as assistance from other nations that share our concerns. It is my opinion that the U.S. should be wary of committing further resources without receiving concrete assurances from Afghan leadership and support from our allies.

These are the issues that I will weigh as I consider the best path to pursue in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions and no painless outcomes. However, I can assure you that any decision I make will be focused on our national security and the needs of our service men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep our country safe. Many of our soldiers have been deployed over and over again, fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the fight in Afghanistan, 917 American soldiers have been killed, and 4,362 American soldiers have been killed in the war in Iraq. Twenty-six brave soldiers from Ohio have been killed in Afghanistan, and 182 brave troops from Ohio have been killed in Iraq. I feel very strongly that we cannot have an open-ended war without a clear strategy and achievable objectives. For this reason, I am a cosponsor of legislation calling for a clearly defined mission and responsible strategy for our military operations in Afghanistan.

Our soldiers and their families bear the true brunt of our continued military operations, and as they fight for us, I am committed to pursuing policies worthy of their tremendous sacrifice. I am also committed to making sure that they are compensated for their sacrifices. Since 2001, more than 180,000 men and women have had their service extended by the Pentagon beyond their contract term for additional deployments through a policy called "stop loss." I introduced a measure to provide stop-loss compensation for these brave soldiers--many who served in Afghanistan--who have put their lives on hold to defend this country. As I push for a responsible and timely end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, I will also continue to champion the needs of our service members and their families.

We are in a time of war. With so many lives on the line, it is incumbent upon Congress and the Administration to critically examine all possible courses of action. It is incumbent upon us to make well-informed, responsible decisions for the good of our great nation and our troops. The options we have before us are not great, but reaching the best decisions requires that we engage in a reasoned, compassionate and realistic debate.

As always, please contact my office to relay any questions, comments or concerns.


Congresswoman Betty Sutton

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