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Public Statements

Van Hollen on the FY10 Supplemental Appropriations


Location: Washington, DC

Madam Speaker,

This supplemental bill contains funding to support our troops in the field and resources to keep our teachers in the classroom. It also provides funding for other priorities, including strengthening our border security and relief to victims of the oil spill in the Gulf and the earthquake in Haiti.

I support President Obama's request to provide our troops with the equipment and support they need for their mission. We also owe it to our troops to have a realistic strategy that is worthy of their sacrifice.

The toughest decisions we face as a nation are questions of war and peace. Whenever we ask the men and women of our armed forces to put their lives at risk, the President and Members of Congress have a solemn obligation to consider all the facts and exercise their best judgment for the country.

More than eight years ago, our nation was the target of a terrorist attack launched by al Qaeda operating out of Afghanistan. The United Nations unanimously passed a resolution supporting the right of the United States to respond forcefully to that attack. Our NATO allies universally backed our actions, invoking the provisions of the NATO charter stating that an attack on one was an attack on all. Today, largely because the Bush administration diverted attention and resources away from this region to Iraq, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda continue to regain strength and plot attacks against Americans from along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Bush Administration also failed to persuade Pakistan to confront the Afghan Taliban insurgents operating inside Pakistan with the support of al Qaeda.

While there is no doubt that al Qaeda operates in parts of Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and other areas, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains the operational and ideological center for al Qaeda's global operations. The President is right to conclude that allowing al Qaeda to operate there unchecked poses a serious security risk to the U.S. and American citizens around the world.

President Obama has developed a carefully considered and comprehensive "counter-insurgency" strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that relies not only on the use of troops but also the use of civilian resources.

The strategy has four parts. First, American and NATO forces will accelerate the training and deployment of the Afghan national security forces, both army and police. This will allow U.S. forces to begin returning home starting in July of next year. Second, in the interim, U.S. and Afghan forces will reverse the Taliban's momentum by working to stabilize major population centers.

Third, the strategy engages Pakistan as a full partner in these efforts. As a result of better coordination between our two countries, for the first time since the beginning of the war, al Qaeda and the Taliban are being genuinely challenged by the Pakistan military.

Finally, the U.S. will work with its partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan to create a more effective civilian strategy -- with the goal of establishing sustainable economic opportunities for Afghans and strengthening the country's national and local governance structures. As the 9-11 Commission determined, extremist groups exploit the poor socioeconomic conditions, such as high unemployment, in the border areas to gain adherents to their cause. With this in mind, I introduced the Afghanistan-Pakistan Security and Prosperity Enhancement Act, which will allow the President to designate Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and allow qualified businesses duty-free access to U.S. markets for designated products. This legislation, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, would help create meaningful job opportunities for young people who are currently vulnerable to the lure of extremism.

The President's strategy contains a timeline which initiates a responsible redeployment of American troops in July of next year. He has established this timeline to send a clear message to the Afghan government that they must take seriously their role in creating a stable Afghanistan and to communicate to the people of Afghanistan that the U.S. has no interest in an open-ended engagement in their country.

During floor consideration of the bill, I supported the McGovern/Obey Amendment which would codify the president's plan to initiate a responsible drawdown of U.S. forces beginning a year from now. The amendment requires that by April 4, 2011, the president submit to Congress a redeployment plan that is consistent with the policy he announced in December 2009.

While I supported the McGovern/Obey Amendment, I opposed amendments that would lead to the immediate cutoff of funds to support the president's strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would have two negative consequences. First, it would immediately strengthen the hand of the most extremist Taliban leaders (those most closely tied to al Qaeda), undercutting any leverage behind ongoing efforts to get some Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and undermining Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new initiative to reach a political accommodation with those members of the Taliban open to national reconciliation. If such a political solution is undermined and the old Taliban regime retakes control of Afghanistan, they will again turn that country into a safe haven for expanded al Qaeda operations. It would also lead to the return of an extreme Taliban regime that encourages horrendous acts like pouring gasoline into the eyes of girls who attempt to go to school.

Second, an immediate withdrawal of NATO forces would weaken Pakistan's resolve to confront the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, and al Qaeda. The most promising development over the last year has been the Government of Pakistan's willingness to fight the growing menace of the Pakistani Taliban. In addition, very recently, the Pakistani government has also shown a willingness to confront elements of the Afghan Taliban. The capture of Mullah Bandar, the operational chief of the Afghan Taliban, and two Afghan Taliban shadow governors, demonstrates this progress. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would sabotage those nascent efforts. Why should the Pakistani forces confront the Afghan Taliban if the U.S. walks away now?

There are no guarantees of success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, we do know that failure to confront al Qaeda would leave Americans constantly exposed to another attack like that perpetrated on September 11, 2001.

In addition to funding for our troops, the bill also includes $10 billion to preserve teachers' jobs--a priority for many members of Congress as well as the Administration. While I share the Administration's concern about paying for this vital relief with unexpended "Race to the Top" funds, I am certain the Committee would have welcomed the Administration's input to identify other viable pay-fors.

To help families suffering as a result of the recession, the measure includes $4.95 billion for Pell grants and $50 million for emergency food assistance.

To strengthen homeland security, the bill includes $701 million for enforcement along our southern border, including $208 million for 1200 additional Border Patrol agents.

Finally, for those still suffering in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the bill includes $2.9 billion and $162 million respectively.

Madam Speaker, I support adoption of the FY10 Supplemental Appropriations Bill.

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