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It's Time to Bring Our Troops Home

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Osama bin Laden's death has generated a swell of palpable emotion across the nation and especially here in New York City. Following the September 11 attacks and our subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, it has been a priority of this country and this city to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Now, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and the brave men and women serving in our armed forces, the mission has been accomplished.

Yet every day, thousands of American soldiers continue to risk their lives to fight a war in Afghanistan that imposes escalating costs to our country, to our military and to cities like New York. The killing of Osama bin Laden provides a chance to rebuild America and strengthen our local economies. But we can only take advantage of this opportunity by bringing our troops home. President Obama must make the immediate withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan a top priority.

Like many New Yorkers, the memory of September 11 is forever etched in my mind. After witnessing the attacks on Lower Manhattan firsthand, I believed that engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan was unquestionably the correct response. I believed in the necessity of this war to root out those who harbored our enemies, stop armament proliferation and prevent future attacks. But in light of Osama bin Laden's demise, the rationale for continuing this war is increasingly untenable.

After almost a decade, the war in Afghanistan has become the longest stretch of armed conflict in our nation's history. Since 2001, 1,500 U.S. soldiers have died and more than 9,900 others have been wounded. Today, over 100,000 American soldiers continue to face hostilities there. In a country with duplicitous leaders, factious tribal alliances and a moribund economy, the opportunities to make gains have been scant. President Hamid Karzai's government has been reluctant to match our nation's commitments in troops and resources. While the federal government is being stretched to the breaking point by this war along with conflicts in Iraq and Syria, America's infrastructure, schools and services are suffering.

We have spent over $1.3 trillion on the security of Iraq and Afghanistan while at home, America's cities are struggling to balance their budgets and maintain needed public services. The debt incurred by our defense spending on the Iraq War had a prominent role in precipitating the financial crisis and has contributed heavily to our ballooning deficit.

That debt is now crushing New York City. The mayor has put forward a budget that will close dozens of firehouses, take hundreds of cops off the street and lay off nearly 5,000 teachers. Many other American cities face similarly devastating situations. As public advocate, I have fought for City Hall to make better choices in this budget. The federal government could provide crucial support by downsizing our commitment to Afghanistan and redirecting resources toward local economies.

In this year's State of the Union address, President Obama challenged the nation to reach for its Sputnik moment, presenting an ambitious road map for investing in education and new infrastructure projects. These are the right priorities for our nation's future and for our city's recovery, but the record-high federal deficit jeopardizes our ability to achieve them. The president rightly wants to invest $4.5 billion in new education aid next year and $53 billion for high-speed rail over the next six years, but we cannot afford to fully fund these projects and spend 117 billion more dollars on the Afghanistan war this year.

Bringing our troops home will provide the fiscal mobility to make these crucial investments. The sooner we leave Afghanistan, the sooner we can give our children better opportunities and start putting Americans back to work. That path will prepare America for the challenges of the forthcoming century and ensure our prosperity. As we rise out of the recession and approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, we can forever tarnish al Qaeda's legacy by proving that America and New York City are resilient, prosperous and committed to the promise of its future. The death of Osama bin Laden does not end the pain of September 11 or our need to be vigilant against the threat of terrorism, but it does offer an opportunity for our country to move forward in a new direction that makes all of us safer and stronger.

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