Last week, I had the privilege of hearing testimony from Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, President Obama’s choice to lead the war in Afghanistan. This military leader provided a sober assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee of the path forward for coalition forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While his testimony painted a realistic picture of the challenges we face, it also served as a reminder of why we are fighting and why we must succeed in Afghanistan.
REASONS TO FIGHT
Like many of us, I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. Having just completed a meeting at the Pentagon with the Secretary of Defense, I learned about the attack in New York. We all soon realized that the world had changed forever. September 11, was one of the darkest days in our history, but it also was a time when Americans united and displayed the power and resolve of our nation.
During the hearing last week, General McChrystal succinctly laid out why we must fight and succeed in Afghanistan. First and foremost, we must prevent Al-Qaeda from operating freely in Afghanistan. The protection afforded to them in 2001 by the Taliban allowed Al-Qaeda to directly attack our homeland, killing over 3,000 innocent civilians. U.S. forces with our coalition allies must never again allow these types of safe havens to exist.
Second, instability in this region will cause geopolitical problems throughout the international community. Bordered by nuclear neighbors, Afghanistan’s volatility historically has proven dangerous for all. Furthermore, stability in Afghanistan is directly linked with security and stability in Pakistan. Recent Taliban advances in Pakistan have dramatically displayed the dangerous ripple effect for this region.
Finally, General McChrystal emphasized the long-term impact U.S. efforts in Afghanistan will have on our nation’s credibility throughout the world. While Afghanistan is a country ravaged by decades of war, the United States has the ability to provide security for the population, help establish a local Afghan security force, and render the Taliban irrelevant. These actions by the United States and our allies will not only protect U.S. national security, but will also shape a better future for the people of Afghanistan.
CASUALTIES MAY INCREASE
Gen. McChrystal was quick to state before the committee that casualties will almost certainly increase and the path forward will be long and difficult. He stated, “Commitment and continued support of this committee, Congress, and the American people will be vital. With the appropriate resources, time, sacrifice, and patience, we can prevail.”
In shifting the focus in Afghanistan from counter terror to counterinsurgency, more troops will be directly involved with the civilian population. As the General said, “The measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence." Securing the population is the first step toward success in Afghanistan, but it also creates more risks.
President Obama and his defense team have made a strong statement in embarking on this renewed commitment to Afghanistan. It is vital that Congress provide them with the appropriate resources and time so they can complete the mission. The United States must demonstrate to the world our power and resolve, because our national security depends on it.