Ten bipartisan members of the House, led by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) sent a letter to President Obama expressing their "grave concerns" about the course of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
The letter came on the eve of the President's trip to Lisbon for a NATO meeting.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. President,
We write to you, Mr. President, because we have grave concerns that the current course in Afghanistan is compromising our national security interests and is unsustainable even in the short term. Currently, you are carrying out a review and assessment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which is due to be released this Friday at the NATO meeting in Lisbon, according to media reports. We strongly support a comprehensive reassessment as we have serious concerns about this strategy. We urge you to avoid making this a review limited to assessing the military tactics within Afghanistan and instead address the fundamental question: Is the war in Afghanistan and the price our nation is paying for this war truly in the national security interest of the United States?
On August 31, 2010, you reiterated to the nation your pledge to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, indicating in your Oval Office address "this transition will begin -- because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's." As you complete your review, we urge you not only to remain committed to your stated policy regarding this July 2011 transition, but to clearly define by when all U.S. forces will return home from Afghanistan.
High levels of deployment continue to strain our uniformed men and women, their families and their communities. In spite of the military's best efforts, suicide and post-traumatic stress rates continue to soar, and our ability to care for the wounded is severely over-burdened. The ability of individual service members and their units to rest, recuperate, retrain and re-equip themselves for redeployment is stretched beyond its limits.
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone account for 23 percent of the combined budget deficits between fiscal years 2003 and 2010. Nobel Laureate and Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz testified in September before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and stated that the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including interest payments on the money borrowed for these wars and care for our wounded soldiers and veterans, will likely be between $4 - $6 trillion.
Mr. President, these costs are unsustainable and unacceptable. Spending on the war in Afghanistan represents a significant drag on our economy, slowing our recovery, undermining our ability to invest and create new jobs, and diverting resources that would be better used here at home. Our nation cannot be strong abroad if we allow ourselves to become weak at home.
We are also concerned that our military operations in Afghanistan may be making our nation less safe. According to CIA Director Leon Panetta, there are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Yet our military presence in Afghanistan has enabled the Taliban leadership to increase their ranks as they appeal to their fellow Afghans to fight what they see as foreign invaders. The level of resources required for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan handicaps our ability to respond effectively to the genuine challenges posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.
Just as in Iraq, the government and people of Afghanistan will more effectively and comprehensively take control of their own destiny once it is clearly defined how and when U.S. forces will depart from their country. The futures of both our countries require that you comprehensively review the costs and sustainability of current U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, their impact here at home as well as abroad, and inform the American people how and when U.S. forces will return home to their families and communities.
James P. McGovern
John J. "Jimmy" Duncan, Jr.