Our men and women in uniform represent the best America has to offer. Our troops in Iraq have done all that we've asked of them and more, and performed valiantly in difficult and dangerous situations.
While our combat troops have now left Iraq, America will still keep around 50,000 trainers, advisors, and mentors in Iraq until the end of 2011. For this reason, I will continue to demand accountability from the Iraqi government. After seven years, a trillion dollars, and more than 4,400 precious American lives lost, it is long past time that the Iraqis take full responsibility for their country, and make the tough political compromises vital to achieving lasting peace in Iraq.
Even after we fully withdraw all US soldiers from Iraq, we must continue to use all of our diplomatic tools to encourage a unified, democratic Iraq that can govern and defend itself and remain an ally against terrorist organizations.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to remove a repressive regime that harbored and aided the terrorists that helped commit the attacks of September 11, 2001. As a nation, we have a responsibility to help Afghanistan develop its security forces so that it can protect itself and remain vigilant against organizations that support terrorism while at the same time develop the capability for stable self-governance. This is a difficult objective and it requires the commitment and dedication of the Afghan people and the Afghan government. I am confident that Gen. David Petraeus is the right person to lead our troops and oversee the implementation of our strategy in Afghanistan.
When I visited Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fall of 2009, it was obvious that while our troops were well-trained and motivated, the strategy was neither clear nor succeeding. Part of the problem stems from years of neglect when resources were diverted to Iraq rather than applied to the region from which the attacks originated. The mountainous terrain of the region has also easily concealed terrorists, complicating our efforts. But it is a mistake to believe that we can fight terrorism at a distance. It didn't work before 9/11 and it won't work today.
The Administration has called for regional, not country specific strategies. This is a good start but we must also make sure our plan provides measurable objectives so our troops have clear direction and so we know if we are succeeding. It must also more heavily involve the international community and NATO. Finally, we must make our expectations for the Afghan people and their government known. Afghanistan must be prepared, with the help of other nations, to fight corruption and assume responsibility for its security, economic reconstruction, self-governance, and education system.
Our military leaders are the first to admit that we cannot achieve success by military means alone. Having gone in after 9/11, we, along with the international community, have a responsibility to help Afghanistan implement policies that foster stability. In addition to a new military approach, we must help Afghanis concentrate on infrastructure, agriculture, education and civil rights as a means to stability. This is the key to success in this region.
I have met with our brave troops and civilian leaders and I am continually impressed with their on-ground expertise. I feel our country; however, must have a broader discussion about our role in the region, led by the President, so that Americans know our intentions and goals. Now is not the time to retreat, but to work with the Afghani and Pakistani people to ensure that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda no longer enjoy safe havens to plot their next attack.
Full Funding for Our Troops
Having traveled around western Wisconsin and visited Iraq four times, I have heard from a number of the Wisconsinites currently and formerly serving in our nation's armed forces. It has become very clear that in these challenging economic times we must do more to provide for the basic needs of our troops and veterans. This Congress, we've continued to build on a significant record of accomplishment for current and former service members -- including the New GI Bill, as well as historic investments to strengthen veterans' health care and improve care for those with PTSD. Our troops in the field have been doing a terrific job under difficult and dangerous conditions. As long as our troops are in harm's way, it's important that they have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.