On June 15, 2011 Utah Senator Mike Lee joined 24 Democratic senators, one Republican senator and one Independent senator in sending a letter to President Barack Obama calling for a shift in strategy in Afghanistan ahead of next month’s announced deadline to begin an accelerated transition to Afghan security forces.
In the letter, the senators urge the President to use the deadline as an opportunity to begin a “sizable and sustained” draw down of troops that puts the U.S. on a path toward removing all regular combat troops from the country. They also note that the primary objectives for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan have been largely met – including the removal of the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the disruption of terrorist networks allied with Al Qaeda and those who planned the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Noting those successes and the ability to pursue counter-terrorism and humanitarian goals without a massive nation-building effort, the letter states “the costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”
Is it time to leave Afghanistan? It is, and that withdrawal begins this July as President Obama stated on May 19, 2011 where he said, “Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.”
On Dec. 1, 2009 President Obama made a goal and promise to the American people to start the withdrawal of troops by July 2011. Now that Osama bin Laden is dead that goal seems not only appropriate but almost prophetic. On that same day in 2009 senior administration officials said that President Obama had a goal of withdrawing most U.S. forces by the end of his current term, which ends in January 2013.
I understand why America is weary of war. As an American, I too want to see the troops come home as quickly as possible and maybe we can bring them back sooner than the 2013 goal, but we need to be cautious. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is doing a wonderful job in the Middle East but there is still much unrest in that region and being too hasty could cause a bigger problem for America and her allies in the future, and we certainly want to be sure that we are not leaving any openings for our enemies by believing that because bin Laden is dead that Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East is now safe.
There are those who would still take advantage and that is why I believe that the President’s time line is appropriate and should be supported.