U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was joined by veterans today as she renewed her call for an aggressive and rapid drawdown of combat troops to end the war in Afghanistan. With al Qaeda having metastasized to the Arabian Peninsula, where the unsuccessful terror attempt on Christmas Day 2009 was plotted, an unreliable partner in Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Pakistani support for the Taliban, Gillibrand urged for a shift in policy to a counter-terrorism mission that would accelerate the pace of bringing our combat troops home so we can focus our fight against al Qaeda's terror networks where they emerge and better meet our most urgent national security needs.
To bring the war to a responsible conclusion, Gillibrand wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling for the broadening of future peace talks to include not just the Taliban, but all significant Afghan stakeholders, including women and civic groups, to build broad support for stability that would enable us to leave sooner and with fewer risks.
"While our troops have admirably fulfilled the missions asked of them, we must step back and review our Afghanistan policy in the context of our overall national security," said Senator Gillibrand. "Al Qaeda has metastasized to the Arabian Peninsula. It is time to shift policy to a counter-terrorism mission and accelerate the pace of bringing our combat troops home so we can focus our fight against al Qaeda's terror networks and address the current threat environment. I want to see more troops rather than less, return home sooner rather than later. I am urging for an aggressive drawdown of combat troops as rapidly as feasible."
"A U.S. withdrawal from the Afghan democracy must come much sooner rather than later," said Jon Soltz, Chairman of VoteVets.org and Iraq War veteran. "Our brave troops on the ground are being asked to provide security without the support and trust of the Afghan people and their government, making their current mission untenable and unproductive. For the sake of our troops, it is time that we right the course by ending our counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan."
Almost half a trillion dollars have been spent on the war, with an estimated $10 billion spent in Afghanistan every month. Nearly 1,800 U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan.
Currently, there are approximately 90,000 U.S. troops deployed, with approximately 3,500 of them from New York State.
Over the past decade, al Qaeda has expanded and strengthened its presence across the globe - including Somalia, Yemen and Europe -- while fewer than 100 operatives remain in Afghanistan. Senior defense officials have listed Iran, China, and cyber security -- not Afghanistan -- as the top national security threats facing our nation.
Counter-terrorism efforts have already been proven to be highly effective in dismantling al Qaeda. Under President Obama's watch, not only has Osama bin Laden been killed, but so have 28 other high value targets such as Anwar al-Awlaki (ahn-wahr al-aw-lah-kee), leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula, Ilyas Kashmiri (ihl-yas kash-mee-ree), a top al Qaeda commander, Abd al-Rahman (ab-dal-rah-man), bin Laden's deputy, and many others.
Recently, President Karzai halted night raids by U.S. special-operations forces, which had been a key tactic in weakening the Taliban's infrastructure. An unreliable partner in Afghan President Karzai and an ineffective, corrupt Afghan government undermines current U.S. strategy and the Afghan forces ability to sustain and build upon our military's accomplishments.
Senator Gillibrand has been one of the leading voices in the Senate calling for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Earlier this month, Senator Gillibrand joined a bipartisan group of her colleagues in urging President Obama for a quicker withdrawal of combat troops than the current plan of December 2014. Last year, she was a co-sponsor of legislation passed in the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that requires benchmarks to evaluate the progress being made toward the transition of security responsibilities for Afghanistan to the government of Afghanistan. In November 2010, Senator Gillibrand traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Senators Graham, Lieberman and McCain.
Senator Gillibrand's letter to Secretary Clinton is below:
Dear Secretary Clinton,
While I applaud your dedication to carrying out the Afghanistan strategy despite the lack of consistent reliability from our partners in the Pakistani and Afghan governments, I respectfully continue to advocate for a change in our strategy to a more rapid troop withdrawal. I agree with your approach of facilitating reconciliation talks as we plan to withdraw. I am writing to suggest that a more rapid withdrawal would be facilitated if the peace talks that had recently stalled were to be expanded to include all significant stakeholders in Afghanistan.
I am concerned that having the Taliban as the sole partner at the table with President Karzai gives far too much power to an enemy that has shown a willingness to cynically leverage those efforts without providing anything in return. As you know past civil wars in Afghanistan have shown that there are a number of powerful stakeholders among the various Afghan ethnic groups who will not honor a settlement in which they did not participate. Moreover, your leadership has helped build civil society, including importantly groups protecting the rights of women and girls. Talks solely with the Taliban risk their future.
Including more of the significant Afghan parties furthers our goal behind the peace talks - a renunciation of violence, a bar to al Qaeda in a future Afghanistan, and respect for the Afghan constitution. Broadly constituted political settlement discussions have a greater potential of building long term stability and security.
I appreciate your leadership and focus to our nation's security and stand ready to work with you on these and other issues. I look forward to your response to this suggestion.