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Mr. MANCHIN. Mr. President, I rise in support of the amendment of my colleague, Senator Merkley from Oregon, his amendment on Afghanistan. I know we all have good ideas. We all have input here. We all have our own personal opinions. But it is time to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. They have been there since October 7, 2001. They have defeated al-Qaida, they have killed Osama bin Laden, and it is time to bring them home.
Mr. President, 66,000 American combat troops still remain in Afghanistan. President Obama plans to reduce that number by ``a steady pace'' until they are moved completely out by the end of 2014. I would prefer a faster pace, as many of my colleague would, but as long as it did not jeopardize the safety of troops, because I think that is the most important thing we do. After all, the war has already surpassed the Vietnam war, your area and mine, Mr. President, as the longest in American history. It has already cost us dearly; more than 2,000 American troops have died for the cause and many thousands more have been maimed and more than $500 billion has been spent just in Afghanistan.
Even so, I support the bipartisan amendment sponsored by Senator Merkley. It backs the President's current plan to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but I support it because it also calls for a quicker transition of security operations from U.S. forces to Afghan security forces. Instead of the end of 2014, the amendment urges the transition to take place in the summer of 2013, this coming year. That, hopefully, would bring a quicker end to the U.S. involvement in combat in Afghanistan. This amendment merely expresses the sense of the Senate. It is not binding on President Obama and it will not affect any negotiations between Washington and Kabul on whether a residual force of U.S. military advisers in Afghanistan would be there after 2014.
U.S. forces went to Afghanistan in pursuit of those who planned and ordered the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed over 3,000 of our citizens. With valor and courage they drove from power the Taliban, which had given bin Laden a base from which he could launch horrific attacks on innocent American civilians. They captured, killed, or brought to justice the leader of al-Qaida and eventually they tracked down bin Laden himself and made sure he would never, ever harm another American.
After more than 10 years, more than 1,900 American lives, and more than $500 billion, it is time to bring our warriors home to a hero's welcome, time to focus our resources on rebuilding America, not on rebuilding Afghanistan. I have said many times on this floor, if you help us build a new road or bridge in West Virginia, help us build a school for our children, we will not blow it up or burn it down.
It is time to help rebuild America for this great country and bring our heroes back to a hero's welcome.
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