It’s Time for Our Troops to Come Home

June 20, 2011

By Sen. Jeff Merkley

In the aftermath of September 11th, our nation went to war in Afghanistan. We had three goals: to dislodge the Taliban government, destroy al Qaeda training camps, and to bring to justice those who masterminded the attacks.

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Forget Nation Building

Thanks to our men and women in uniform, the Taliban government was quickly removed from power. Moreover, we destroyed terror training camps and now al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan number fewer than 100, as noted by CIA Director Leon Panetta and other military experts. And just last month, U.S. Special Forces succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden, just as we have taken out so many other senior al Qaeda leaders over the last decade.

Now it’s time for our troops – who have served so long and so well – to come home.

Our national security demands that we continue to root out al Qaeda, wherever in the world they may hide – not that we engage in an ambitious nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. After nearly ten years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, we should safely and expeditiously end our war in Afghanistan, start a sizeable and sustained withdrawal of our troops next month with a goal of ending the combat and nation-building mission as soon as possible, and use the hundreds of billions of dollars in savings to reduce the deficit and make smart investments here at home.

Yesterday’s report from the Senate Foreign Relations highlights the inherent flaws in a nation-building strategy in Afghanistan. The study found that the nation-building attempt has had limited success and has flooded areas with rebuilding money with little to no oversight, distorting local economies in ways that are simply unsustainable and contributing to the corruption that undermines the development of capable institutions.

Our enemies are operating in countries around the world, and we need to take the fight to them with all of the tools at our disposal. But we don’t need to engage in nation building to do so. The recent operation against Osama bin Laden highlights the successes of a global, comprehensive, counter-terrorism strategy, relying on intelligence, special forces, covert actions, and the many other tools at our disposal. We took out bin Laden in the suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan, not in Afghanistan. Neither leading a decades-long nation-building process nor refereeing internal power struggles is a national security priority of the United States. And lord knows we can hardly afford the hundreds of billions of dollars it is costing to pursue a mission that is not critical to our security.

Shift Course in Afghanistan

That is why I am working with many Senate colleagues to shift course in Afghanistan. Next month the President is scheduled to announce plans for troop withdrawals. Soon, we will send a letter to the President urging that the plan be a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, not just a token reduction in the troop levels. The letter has the support of many distinguished former military leaders, as well as peace advocacy groups such as the Council for a Livable World, and thousands of citizens. I urge you to lend your voice to these efforts.

The future of Afghanistan will be decided by Afghans. Only Afghans can choose to root out corruption in their government and create a sustainable economy that works. It is time to clear the path to let Afghanistan create their own self-determination. America must focus on keeping our people safe and getting our economy growing. Φ

Jeff Merkley represents Oregon as its junior U.S. Senator. Senior Senator Ron Wyden also signed the letter to the president Merkley refers to.

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