Although we have successfully warded off another domestic terrorist attack since September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda and its allies remain intent on killing innocent people and spreading an ideology of violence and hatred around the world. We must remain vigilant in our defense of freedom and democracy as we face difficult challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on other fronts in the War on Terrorism.
Security Transition in Iraq
In Iraq, the tremendous sacrifices of our troops supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to combat terrorism have successfully weakened al-Qaeda and other violent anti-government factions. While the Iraqi government has taken the lead in providing for its own security, with Iraqi Security Forces now leading operations in all of Iraq's 18 provinces and U.S. forces now limited to an advise-and-assist role, al-Qaeda militants have demonstrated a commitment to planning and executing high profile attacks against civilian and military targets. It is important not to become complacent in spite of our reduced role, and to make sure that we help the government of Iraq finish the fight against anti-democratic extremists in the country.
In addition to providing security for millions of Iraqis, U.S. forces in Iraq successfully provided the Government of Iraq with the breathing space necessary for their burgeoning democracy to take root. Following Iraq's historic March 2010 national parliamentary elections, the winning factions engaged in negotiations that ultimately led to a new coalition government with the mandate to continue Iraq's recovery from years of misrule under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. High voter turnout among all of Iraq's sects in the last election is a welcome sign for the future of democracy in Iraq, and the new coalition government is expected to reenergize efforts to eliminate corruption, improve services, and build public confidence. Although progress has been fragile, it has also been real.
It is imperative that the Iraqi government form a unified coalition, as well as Iraq's legislative and judicial bodies to overcome remaining legislative gridlock, especially on the laws necessary for Iraq to realize the benefits of its vast oil and gas resources. In the meantime, we must continue advancing and supporting Iraqi forces, supporting reconstruction efforts, and providing the government with the support it needs, so we can bring our remaining troops home as quickly as possible.
New Challenges in Afghanistan
While we have seen great progress in Iraq, we must stay focused on winning the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over the past few years, Taliban insurgents have fought U.S. and coalition forces to reestablish strongholds across Afghanistan's southern and eastern frontiers and into the tribally-administered areas of Pakistan. These strongholds provided a base for insurgent and terrorist operations, undermining the Afghan Government and hindering coalition efforts to seal Afghanistan's porous borders. Security in many populated areas has degraded, and Taliban insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists pose a serious threat to the new Afghan government.
Following a lengthy strategy review, President Obama announced a new strategy to help turn around the situation in Afghanistan. As part of this strategy, the President ordered an increase of at least 30,000 additional troops, as well as a "civilian surge" of U.S. Government diplomats and development experts to help reduce corruption, build government capacity, and aid in reconstruction efforts. I applaud the President's decision, and I believe it is working. However, I remain concerned about his insistence on including a timeline for troop withdrawal. In order for this strategy to succeed, Afghan citizens must choose to side with the Kabul government. A timeline for troop withdrawal only undermines our commitment to the Afghan people.
I hope the new strategy in Afghanistan will enhance security and deny resources to the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. In January 2010, I traveled to Afghanistan to meet with senior U.S. officials then serving in Afghanistan to discuss the President's new counterinsurgency strategy. This strategy, along with reconstruction efforts, anti-corruption measures, and the training of the Afghan National Army and National Police forces, offer us a last, best chance to emerge victorious from this struggle.
There is no question we face tremendous challenges in Afghanistan. My visit was an eye-opening experience, and it was truly an honor to spend time with a number of remarkable Wisconsinites defending our freedoms far from home. They deserve not only our appreciation, but also our unwavering support. In the meantime, we must continue to work with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as our international partners to ensure Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists, is moderate and democratic, is capable of governing its territory and borders, and is respectful of the rights of all its citizens.
The Need for Success
Moving forward in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must bear in mind the consequences of failure. If we give up now, a weakened al-Qaeda would quickly regain strength in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, sectarian and tribal conflicts would reignite and escalate. Iran, a known supporter of terrorist groups including Hezbollah and Hamas, would emerge as the dominant regional power. Afghanistan would likely relapse into a series of bloody power struggles between terrorist-sympathizing Taliban supporters and increasingly powerful drug lords, the same conditions that allowed Afghanistan to become a safe-haven for al-Qaeda terrorists in the first place.
You may be asking yourself--why is this so important? What does all this have to do with me? For our communities, for our families, and for our way of life--the stakes could not be higher. As a father of three young children, I realize the importance of ensuring that Iraq and Afghanistan do not become the new bases for worldwide terrorist operations. In a post-9/11 world, we cannot let up in our fight against radical extremists--those that seek to end our way of life. The safety and security of our nation and the fate of the free world depend on it.
The President's Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request
President Obama's budget requested $548.9 billion for the normal operations of the Department of Defense (DOD), a 3.4% increase over last year. To fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the request also included an additional $33.0 billion for 2010 and $159.3 billion for 2011, including funds to execute the President's new strategy in Afghanistan. I applaud the President's efforts to budget honestly for the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, and his commitment to tackle the Pentagon's bloated and inefficient weapons development and acquisition process.
Supporting Our Troops
While there are many ways to streamline the DOD budget, Congress must not forget its promises to our troops, our veterans at home, and the families of all who serve. Our troops overseas must be provided with the tools they need to complete their mission and return to their families as soon and as safely as possible. Further, we must also work to ensure our veterans and the families of all service members receive the care, and services they need in a timely, convenient, and efficient manner.
The brave soldiers who are serving our country in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have made tremendous personal sacrifices in order to make the world a safer place. I am grateful to our troops for their service, and I am working to provide them with the equipment they need to achieve their missions safely and effectively and return to their families as soon as possible. Congress must also ensure that the families of these courageous individuals are thanked and cared for while their loved ones are away. As Congress works with the Obama Administration to ensure victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, I will continue working to provide our troops with the tools, equipment, and supplies they need to complete their mission and return home as soon as possible.