It has now been eight years since the United States launched military operations in Afghanistan to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of nearly 3000 people on September 11th, 2001. In the last eight years, we have lost nearly 800 courageous Americans in Afghanistan and thousands have returned home wounded. Like all Americans, I am deeply grateful for the service and sacrifice of our troops in Afghanistan.
Eight years ago, I voted in favor of the authorization to use military force against those who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks. That was the right step to protect our national security. Unfortunately, the decision to go to war in Iraq was a tragic mistake that undermined our efforts in Afghanistan and our ability to go after al Qaeda.
Now, eight years later, the Obama administration has appropriately refocused our attention on the threats to our security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But while our military presence in Afghanistan has doubled over the past year, and the administration is contemplating additional troop increases, the resilient al Qaeda leadership is now located in neighboring Pakistan.
Devoting billions more dollars and tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan is not likely to significantly improve conditions in that country and it will not help – and could even hurt – our efforts to dismantle al Qaeda’s global network with safe havens in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and elsewhere.
After eight years, it is time to give the Afghan people, the American people and people around the world an idea of when our massive military presence will end. A flexible timetable to draw down our troops from Afghanistan would defuse the perception that we are occupying that country, which fuels militancy and instability in Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Russell Feingold is a United States Senator from Wisconsin.