On October 7, 2001, the United States initiated "Operation Enduring Freedom" with the goal of capturing Al Qaeda leaders, destroying terrorist training camps and infrastructure, and putting a stop to terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Together with British forces, the United States launched air strikes against Taliban-controlled targets. Later that year, American military efforts were joined by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a multinational contingent led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and established by the United Nations Security Council in order to help provide stability and security within Afghanistan.
With the previous administration's focus on Iraq, precious economic and military resources were diverted from Afghanistan, allowing insurgents to regroup and regain control in many parts of the country. The Obama administration inherited a situation in Afghanistan with a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda presence, a thriving opium trade, a weak economy, and a struggling central government tainted with corruption. In 2009, the United States changed its strategy, boosting troop strength and efforts to train Afghan army and police forces. In May of this year, US Special Forces succeeded in capturing and killing Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, who orchestrated the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Ten years later, while the War in Afghanistan continues, the United States is gradually drawing down thousands of troops and transferring more control to Afghan leadership. As this process moves forward, the United States faces many long-term challenges in its ongoing mission to promote stability in Afghanistan while maintaining our national security and addressing critical economic concerns here at home.
The cost of the War in Afghanistan has been steep. Between FY 2001 and FY 2011, it has cost us approximately $443 billion. To date, there have been at least 2,732 US and coalition casualities, including 1,780 American, 382 British, and 157 Canadian troops. This is in addition to at least 14,342 American troops who have been wounded in action. Furthermore, between 17,000 and 37,000 Afghan civilians have died either as a result of military action, or as a consequence of starvation, disease, lack of medical treatment, or crime. More than 300,000 have been displaced, and many have fled to neighboring countries, including Iran and Pakistan.
It is clear that the United States cannot sustain continued and open-ended military operations in Afghanistan. That is why I support bringing our troops home safely and expeditiously within the scheduled drawdown and transition period laid out by President Obama. In the meantime, with thousands of American troops still on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, we must ensure that they have the resources they need on the battlefield to complete their missions and stay safe until they return home. Furthermore, we must provide our service members, veterans, and their families with the highest quality benefits, including affordable housing, access to higher education, top-quality health care, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
As Congress considers spending and deficit reduction proposals, it is our responsibility to ensure that we invest our resources wisely. We must continue to support our powerful military, pursue defense policies that protect our national security and advance our global interests, and at the same time reduce waste, fraud, and abuse through effective oversight. As we mark the tenth anniversary of the War in Afghanistan, I would like to thank the men and women of our Armed Forces for their service and sacrifice. I truly appreciate everything that they do to keep us safe and pledge to work with my colleagues in Congress to fulfill our responsibility to them, our nation as a whole, and all those who fight to defend freedom and human dignity.