No U.S. Retreat In Afghanistan
Friday marked the eighth anniversary of the attack on America by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. Our country has new leadership in the White House and new military command in Afghanistan. It's time for a new strategy that simultaneously roots out the Taliban and al-Qaida presence and works with the people of Afghanistan to develop the capability for stable self-governance.
When I visited Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year, it was obvious that while our troops were well-trained and motivated, the strategy was neither clear nor succeeding. Part of the problem stems from years of neglect when resources were diverted to Iraq rather than applied to the region from which the attacks originated. The mountainous terrain of the region also has easily concealed terrorists, complicating our efforts. But it is a mistake to believe that we can fight terrorism at a distance. It didn't work before 9/11 and it won't work today.
The Barack administration has called for regional strategies. This is a good start but we must also make sure our plan provides measurable objectives so our troops have clear direction and so we know if we are succeeding. It must also more heavily involve the international community and NATO.
Finally, we must make our expectations for the Afghan people and their government known. Afghanistan must be prepared, with the help of other nations, to fight corruption and assume responsibility for its security, economic reconstruction, self-governance and education system.
In short, Afghanistan must want its freedom more than we want it for them.
Our military leaders are the first to admit that we cannot achieve success by military means alone. Having gone in after 9/11, we, along with the international community, have a responsibility to help Afghanistan implement policies that foster stability.
In addition to a new military approach, we must help Afghanis concentrate on infrastructure, agriculture, education and civil rights as a means to stability. This is the key to success in this region.
There is a saying in Afghanistan that "where the road ends, the Taliban begin." Physically connecting the country facilitates economic growth, forges strong social connections and ultimately disables the Taliban.
The major road through Afghanistan, constructed with the help of Japanese workers, connects remote areas to regional centers, enabling Afghan farmers to quickly bring produce to market.
Because Afghanistan is an agrarian nation whose future economic success depends upon sustainable agriculture, our National Guard, including Col. Marty Leppert of Reedsburg, Wis., is deploying "Agribusiness Development Teams" to help farmers with water management, soil enhancement, crop cultivation and marketing of their goods for agricultural success in the long-run. These efforts are providing sustainable alternatives to opium poppy cultivation, cutting off funding for terrorist networks around the world.
Afghanistan's economy and society are still fragile after decades of warfare; however, Afghan citizens, including women, are enjoying personal freedoms previously forbidden by the Taliban. While literacy and primary school enrollment rates for females remain low, dramatic improvements recently have been made.
A continuously improving education system paired with the empowerment of women will only strengthen the Afghan economy and lead to further growth and stability.
I have met with our brave troops and civilian leaders, and I am continually impressed with their on-ground expertise. I feel, however, that our country must have a broader discussion, led by the president, about our role in the region, so that Americans know our intentions and goals.
Now is not the time to retreat, but to work with the Afghani and Pakistani people to ensure that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida no longer enjoy safe havens.