The situation in Afghanistan is dire. American involvement in Afghanistan since 2001 has been marked by difficult conditions and terrain; a lack of focus due to the Iraq conflict; and stalled economic and infrastructure development. American taxpayers have spent approximately $38.6 billion dollars in reconstruction assistance. And during the eight-year conflict, almost one thousand Americans have lost their lives.
Martha is deeply troubled by the reemergence of Taliban and Al Qaeda influence in the region. She believes strongly that the military strategy going forward must include specific, measurable goals and realistic, concrete plans to achieve them.
Martha believes that three components must be included in any Afghanistan military plan. First, we must protect Americans at home and soldiers serving abroad. Second, we must work to empower the Afghan Government and security forces and encourage economic and social development. And finally, we must work with the Pakistani Government to ensure their backing and support in containing the Taliban and driving Al Qaeda members out of Pakistan. These elements are necessary to ensure safety and stability in the region.
Keeping America safe is a grave responsibility. In Washington, Martha will support a targeted plan in Afghanistan that focuses on eliminating the threat of terrorism directed towards the United States. She knows that we cannot allow Afghanistan to become a breeding ground for terrorists who wish to do us harm. Our goal in Afghanistan should be, as it always has been, to fight Al Qaeda to keep America safe from terrorist threats.
American service members are dedicated and courageous, and in recent years have been asked to make sacrifices the rest of us cannot imagine. Martha is deeply concerned about putting more lives at risk and escalating violence. As Senator, Martha will not support a troop increase unless and until the goals we need to achieve are clearly articulated and capable of being carried out.
Martha believes it is Congress and the President's responsibility to narrowly define the mission, to directly address that mission and to get our American troops home safely to their families. As Senator, she will focus squarely on the mission of keeping America and our soldiers safe from harm.
Afghanistan and its people are confronting threats on many fronts. The Taliban remains in control of the southern region of Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda has a significant presence both in Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan. United States and NATO forces have failed to contain the Taliban, or to sufficiently support the development of the Afghanistan National Security Forces ("ANSF") or a freely elected government in Afghanistan.
The situation is undoubtedly grim, but there are some glimmers of hope. International aid has resulted in some significant improvements to the country's infrastructure. The number of children educated in Afghanistan has increased to six million, including two million girls. Now, an unprecedented eighty percent of Afghans have access to health care, up from eight percent in 2001. Further progress can be made by giving American forces the tools they need to productively engage with Afghan civilians. In Washington, Martha will fight to more thoroughly train and recruit service members with special skills, such as engineering, translation, and infrastructure development.
Martha knows that security is the key to development. Because of a lack of security, USAID infrastructure projects like road construction and power generation have been delayed. The resurgence of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have diverted the ANSF from their training missions, which are crucial for rebuilding the stability of the country. Civilian aid to Afghanistan is vital, but it must be closely monitored because of recent claims of waste and corruption. Martha will support measures to more closely track foreign reconstruction dollars and their effectiveness.
Also crucial to meaningful development is the relationship between Afghan civilians and American service members. Indiscriminate aerial attacks are not an effective strategy to reduce terrorist threats or build the trust of the Afghan people, which is why President Obama and General McChrstyal have stated that such strikes are not in our best interest and should be stopped. Martha supports recent changes in policy that make protecting civilians a priority.
Lastly, international cooperation is crucial to the eradication of Afghanistan's narcotics trade. Aid and improved infrastructure will help reduce Afghanistan's dependence on opium. There must be a concerted effort to crack down on demand and foster other productive trade relationships so Afghan farmers can develop livelihoods that do not directly support international crime and terrorism. Martha understands that it is appropriate for the United States to weigh in on this sort of regional cooperation. Martha will support the continued efforts of India, China and Russia to assist in Afghanistan's redevelopment; and any increases in trade and development collaboration with its closest neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan.
Throughout her twenty plus years in public service, Martha Coakley has proven herself to be a bold and pragmatic leader. As Attorney General, her first priority has been the safety and security of the people of the Commonwealth. As a Senator, she will be a strong voice for policies that help to ensure the preparedness of our troops, help Afghanistan build a secure democracy, and help keep Americans safe at home and abroad.