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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I am pleased to be able to present this amendment in this Chamber. I appreciate that my lead cosponsor Rand Paul and nine other Senators have signed on to sponsor this amendment.

This amendment is designed to help draw down the war in Afghanistan in a timely and responsible manner. It is time to bring home our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our husbands and our wives as quickly and as safely as possible and put an end to America's longest war.

We went to Afghanistan with two objectives: destroy al-Qaida training camps and hunt down those responsible for 9/11. Our capable American troops and NATO partners have accomplished those goals. Afghanistan is no longer, and has not been for years, an important hub for al-Qaida activity. Al-Qaida has robust operations in a number of nations around the world, including Yemen and Somalia, but not in Afghanistan.

American forces have also accomplished the second objective: capturing or killing those who attacked America on 9/11. So it is time to put an end to this war.

Simply put, we are currently in the midst of a nation-building strategy that is not working. It simply makes no sense to have nearly 70,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan when the biggest terrorist threats are elsewhere.

Our President recognizes this fact and has committed to a steady course of drawing down troop levels and handing over security responsibilities to the Government of Afghanistan. In contrast, the House-passed version of this bill calls for keeping at least 68,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2014.

Let me give some details about what this short amendment does. It is a sense of Congress resolution that the President should undertake all appropriate activities to accomplish his stated goal of transitioning the lead responsibility for security to the Government of Afghanistan by midsummer 2013.

This is the President's goal, and our team has been working to make this happen; second, as a part of accomplishing this transition of lead responsibility for security to the Government of Afghanistan, drive down United States troops to a level sufficient to meet this goal.

Third, as previously announced by the President, continue to draw down U.S. troop levels at a steady pace through the end of 2014; and, very importantly, end all regular combat operations by the U.S. troops by not later than December 31, 2014, and take all possible steps to end such operations earlier if it can be done in a manner consistent with a safe and orderly drawdown of U.S. troops.

This amendment very clearly sets out that it is not to be construed that we are recommending or supporting any limitation or prohibition on any authority of the President to modify the military strategy, tactics, and operations of the U.S. Armed Forces as such Armed Forces redeploy from Afghanistan. It also clearly notes that we are not interfering in any way with the ability of the United States to authorize forces in Afghanistan to defend themselves whenever they may be threatened or to attack al-Qaida forces wherever such forces are located. Moreover, we are not limiting in any way the provision of financial support and equipment to the Government of Afghanistan for the training and supply of Afghan military and security forces, nor are we interfering with the gathering of intelligence.

Essentially, the amendment boils down to this: Mr. President, you have laid out a course to end this war, and we support you in this effort and encourage you to continue this effort and, if conditions allow, to accelerate the pace.

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Mr. MERKLEY. Mr. President, I rise to speak in favor of my amendment No. 3096 to express the sense of Congress on the accelerated transition of U.S. combat and military security operations for the Government of Afghanistan.

Our President has laid out a course of action that involves putting Afghan troops in charge of the operation in Afghanistan. This amendment fully supports the schedule the President has laid out. Furthermore, it calls upon the President to explore every opportunity to see if that schedule can be accelerated; that we can, with security for our troops and appropriateness for our mission, withdraw at a faster pace.

The two main objectives in Afghanistan were to take out the al-Qaida training camps and to proceed to pursue those responsible for 9/11. We have effectively pursued those missions. Al-Qaida is now much stronger around the rest of the world. A counterterrorism strategy that is appropriate in the rest of the world is appropriate in Afghanistan and it should be pursued. But the newly adopted mission of nation building in Afghanistan has gone terribly off the track and put our troops at great risk. We need to endorse the President's strategy and end this war--the longest war the United States has ever experienced.

I ask for the support of my colleagues.

I yield the floor.

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