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Afghanistan

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I have come to the floor to speak about something that I very passionately believe in, and that is my view in support of a significant and sustained reduction of American combat forces in Afghanistan beginning this July.

In short, I believe the time has come to move from a strategy of counterinsurgency to one of counterterrorism--a strategy that would rely on our specialized military forces to continue to engage those who present a real and continued threat to the national security of the United States and one that would allow us to bring home a majority of troops serving in Afghanistan.

After September 11, almost a decade ago, we were clearly justified in intervening in Afghanistan to defeat al-Qaida and bring bin Laden to justice for the atrocities they committed against Americans on our own soil. I supported President Bush at that time in that effort. I have a standard that if I am willing to send my son and daughter to fight for America on behalf of the Nation's national security interests, I will vote to send anyone else's sons and daughters. Not so in Iraq where I did not believe it was in the national security interests of the United States; and if I won't send my son and daughter, I won't vote to send anyone else's sons or daughters. But in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago, that is where the perpetrators of September 11 were, and it was the right engagement. Our original goals have largely been met in that respect.

Today, even according to the Director of the CIA, fewer than 100 members of al-Qaida remain in Afghanistan. Since September 11, we are painfully aware that the world is a different place, and we will always have to be vigilant. But the current threat simply does not justify the presence of 100,000 American troops on the ground. Bin Laden is dead, having hidden for years in Pakistan in plain view of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence force, and the Pakistani military.

Clearly, the issue at hand is about terrorism not insurgency. Terrorism is a borderless issue represented by the unimpeded movement of the Taliban into Pakistan and a safe haven in Abbottabad for al-Qaida's leader. In finding bin Laden and bringing him to justice, we have struck a serious blow to al-Qaida's network that permits us to now reconsider our mission and the wisdom of pursuing a broad and open-ended strategy of nation building in Afghanistan because, make no mistake about it, what we are doing in Afghanistan is nation building.

This is interesting. I have heard speeches on the Senate floor and in my previous service in the House by many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle about how we should not be nation building, as though that is not a vital national interest. Well, that is exactly what we are doing. The costs of our current strategy are too high in lives lost, in futures unraveled by injury, and in taxpayer dollars spent.

Mr. President, 1,500 brave men and women have lost their lives in Afghanistan. Almost 12,000 have been wounded in action, at a cost--a continuing cost--of $10 billion a month--a month. Nonmilitary contributions to Afghan reconstruction and development from 2002 to 2010 have reached $19 billion--a number which is expected to surge as we transition to a civilian mission. But at the same time, reports from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which I sit, and from the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan place our billions of dollars in investment at risk of falling into disrepair because of inadequate planning to pay for the ongoing operations and maintenance; not to mention that from my own perspective, $19 billion later, I don't know what we have achieved in Afghanistan.

In my mind not only are the costs and lives and treasure far too high, but there is a growing consensus that absent a very long and sustained commitment involving many troops on the ground, we can't win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people or, for that matter, even President Karzai who, in my view, has not proven to be a good partner. Karzai most recently suggested that the U.S. and NATO forces risk becoming an occupying force that would be, in his words, ousted from the country--all of these lives later of American troops lost. To do what? To have a counterinsurgency effort. Which is what? Fighting insurgents to give the Afghan Government the opportunity to sustain itself, to defend itself, to govern itself, and we are an occupying force? We are an occupying force?

We have to ask, even if we are willing to make the enormous economic commitment required to build a democracy and to fund the necessary security elements at the cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, what is the likelihood of our success?

The Afghan Government is corrupt. Our working relationship with President Karzai continues to be challenged. Today I believe he made some other comments--either today or yesterday--again, that malign the very Nation that is there defending them with the sons and daughters of America, with the National Treasury of America--in a country that, by the way, has $1 trillion of precious deposits of various minerals that, if properly pursued, would be able to fund the Afghan Nation for years to come.

When they gave out their first contract, who did they give it to? Not the Nation that has defended them but the Chinese who have done nothing to stand up for the Afghan people.

So I look at a government that is corrupt, our working relationship with Karzai crumbling, our focus on building security forces challenged because its membership largely excludes Pashtuns in the south, which is the base for the Taliban. I am not certain there is any amount of money or a plan that can work under those circumstances. It seems to me for every Taliban fighter we kill, buy off, or convert another one will take his place, and more and more will stand up to fight an enemy that is perceived as infidels. I am not certain a counterinsurgency strategy is anything but counterproductive.

It is clear to me the present course is unsustainable, creates dependency, breeds corruption, and ignores the fact that at some point Afghanistan will have to stand on its own--on its trillions of dollars in mineral deposits--and build its own future. We are spending $10 billion a month on a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan that does not have a clear path to a definable victory. I am not certain a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan does anything but feed and grow the insurgency.

In short, I am not certain a counterinsurgency strategy

is a winnable strategy. Therefore, it is my belief we need a tailored counterterrorism strategy to achieve and protect our national security interests and meet our broader fiduciary responsibilities. Since 2001 we have invested over $50 billion to help stand up a central government in Kabul and fund reconstruction projects across Afghanistan. So $26 billion has gone to standing up the Afghan security forces, including an additional $11 billion this year. To date, the Afghan National Army now stands at 164,000 men, and the Afghan National Police Force at 126,000. So combined, the Afghan National Security Forces now stand at 290,000 men strong.

We can't forever be the overprotective parent. The time has come to allow Afghans to secure their own future, to draw on the 290,000 men who have committed to securing their country's future, and to allow them the opportunity to defend their Nation and their people.

The fact is, Afghanistan is a rugged, multifaceted country with a long history of complex tribal relationships. It faces almost unprecedented challenges in building a vibrant, independent, and, hopefully, democratic nation from the rubble of more than a quarter century of war. We can guide a process to provide necessary, achievable, and sustainable assistance to bolster their efforts--and we should--but it is up to the Afghan people to stand up a government and a security force and to develop their own counterinsurgency effort.

Our primary goal--the goal that was crystal clear on September 12, 2001--was to address the imminent terrorist threat to America and America's interests. The phrase was ``to drain the swamp and address the new threats we face.''

The Taliban is a threat, but they are not the threat we rallied to address. Any counterterrorism strategy we employ now can necessarily deal with any Taliban issues that would be a threat to American security. But the primary threat to America and to American interests is posed by al-Qaida. It is a threat that is stateless, borderless. The notion that if we deploy enough forces in Afghanistan we will somehow lessen that threat, in my view, is farcical and falls on the conventional Washington wisdom that more is better.

In my view, better is better--a mission better focused on the threats, with specialized troops better trained to better locate and better destroy terrorist hideouts; a mission with resources better spent on projects that are necessary, achievable, and sustainable. In short, we need a better, not a bigger, mission.

In my view, we must accelerate the transfer of nation building and nation protecting to the Afghan people and their government. We must remain ever vigilant and ever prepared to protect our national security interests and eliminate any new terrorist threats that emerge. We should continue to identify areas where our advice and assistance can strengthen the Afghan Government and the institutions of democracy. But our mission should be one of counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency.

We need to concentrate our resources on the real threats in the region--threats to U.S. citizens and U.S. interests and threats that could destabilize Pakistan and place nuclear materials at risk, which would be a very real and present threat to national security and the security of the region--a threat we cannot abide.

We entered Afghanistan to address a threat vital to the national security of our country. By reforming our mission, targeting our unique military resources, and refining our assistance mission to focus on sustainable and achievable outcomes, we can achieve that goal with fewer troops and less money.

For those reasons, last week I joined with my distinguished colleague Senator Merkley of Oregon and many other Members in urging the President to begin a sizable and sustained reduction in U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. It is time to bring our men and women home. It is my belief this is the best and most responsible policy for America--a policy that seeks to protect our national security while meeting our fiduciary responsibilities, and serving the interests of the service men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much on behalf of a grateful Nation. It is time. It is time.

With that, I yield the floor.

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