Tomorrow night, President Obama will lay out the next steps in our relationship with Afghanistan.
It is clear from my conversations with folks in Northwest Washington that the American public is ready to have our troops on the ground in Afghanistan return home, and they are concerned with the level of spending to maintain our military presence. As of March 2011, the United States has devoted $444 billion dollars to military operations in Afghanistan, an amount that will continue to grow. And we have 100,000 service members in Afghanistan.
Our military efforts have largely driven Al-Qaeda from that country, and while some Taliban forces remain, they are largely being defeated and the Afghan government is taking control over security in 3 provinces and 4 cities.
It is time for us to move forward in our relationship with Afghanistan. It is time to start a responsible transition from troops to trade; in other words, the nature of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will remain strong, yet it should change.
When President Obama addresses the nation tomorrow, I fully expect for him to announce how we will turn over control of key provinces and areas to Afghan forces and how we will strengthen and expand our partnership with the Afghan government and the Afghan people. I also expect him to lay out a plan for bringing our troops home, including a substantial reduction of forces by the end of this year.
As I said previously, I believe we must start an accelerated transition of forces from Afghanistan. I support having at least the 33,000 surge troops redeployed from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.
For that reason, last month I voted for the bipartisan McGovern-Jones Amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment required a plan and timeframe for an accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities as well as a plan and timeframe on negotiations leading to a political solution and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Importantly, the amendment did not prohibit the President from attacking Al Qaeda forces wherever they are located, from gathering, providing, or sharing intelligence with U.S. allies operating in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or from modifying US military operations during redeployment. Our goal still ought to be to deter, disrupt and defeat Al Qaeda. This can -- and should --be done with fewer U.S. troops.
It is time to close the chapter on significant U.S. military presence and open the chapter on U.S. diplomacy and trade with our partner.
We have established diplomatic and economic relations with most countries in the world. Afghanistan should not be different. To simply remove our troops without regard for the Afghan future would be to abandon our ally. The U.S. does not abandon countries that have stood with it.
Therefore, I further urge one more step: to show the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, the U.S. should immediately open negotiations with the Afghan government on a new strategic framework that provides structure to the long term relationship our two countries ought to have. It is time to move from a relationship based on the number of US troops in Afghanistan to one based the amount of trade we should have.
For that reason, I sent a letter to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy strongly urging that the Administration establish a strategic framework with Afghanistan, similar to the Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, launched in late 2008. Such efforts to strengthen economic ties, cultural exchanges, and diplomatic cooperation should grow between our countries.
I will be watching the President's speech tomorrow night and I hope what he says reflects the desire from most Americans that our burden in Afghanistan, both in lives lost and in money spent, is one that should soon be brought to a close.