11/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The United States and Afghanistan

As President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates review our nation's strategy in Afghanistan, it is my position that the United States must begin to withdraw ground combat units from Afghanistan by September 2010. An immediate reduction in the number of U.S. combat troops would be irresponsible. It would destabilize the region and possibly lead to a blood bath between those who have supported the government of Afghanistan and those who have not. However, Afghanistan must have a deadline to assume control of its own defense.

The primary mission of the United States must continue, without deadlines and based on the situation on the ground, the offensive mission to eliminate the leadership of Al Qaeda and allied groups. This mission should continue utilizing primarily intelligence and special operations units working with Afghan forces. It is the generally defensive mission, protecting the people of Afghanistan utilizing U.S. conventional combat units, that is in question.

The United States was attacked on September 11, 2001. Americans died on U.S. soil and our country was paralyzed for days. The government of Afghanistan, as a complicit partner in the attack, was subsequently removed from power by our brave service men and women.

After eight long years, the war continues because of the history of the region and the United States' previous lack of focus on the mission implied by our vital interests; to end Al Qaeda and other extremist organization's ability to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States must prevent Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations from controlling or partnering with the government of Afghanistan. We must do everything in our power to prevent these organizations from seizing control of one or more nuclear weapons in Pakistan. And, we must ensure that the Pakistani government is not controlled or unduly influenced by Al Qaeda and its allied groups.

Any strategy for Afghanistan must address the regional situation and specifically Pakistan. Key to our success in Pakistan is a strong diplomatic effort to convince the government and the people of Pakistan that India is not their enemy, and this process has begun. Because of the complexity of the situation, the United States, since January 2009, has methodically developed a strategic plan that involves use of the military, diplomacy and foreign aid. We now have a special representative, Richard Holbrooke, assigned to the region, and the administration is taking steps to improve Pakistani-Indian relations and ensure that our aid gets to those who need it. As a result of these combined efforts, the Pakistanis have begun to confront the extremists in the northwestern part of the country.

If Pakistan can come to terms with India, it can then commit the resources required to establish control over the western tribal areas and, most importantly for the long term, provide education and jobs for its many citizens who now support extremists in their land. This effort will also reduce Pakistan's perceived need to produce and protect nuclear weapons.

This brings us back to Afghanistan. We have a new strategy for Afghanistan, published in March, 2009. This strategy includes a renewed emphasis on training Afghanistan forces to assume defense of their country. However, they are not ready. Now that Pakistan has finally decided to confront the extremists, the United States cannot withdraw immediately and leave Afghanistan a vacuum into which Pakistan drives the enemy who will, in turn, fight to reinstall themselves as the government of Afghanistan.

So, for the next year, we must maintain our ground units in Afghanistan while the government continues to stabilize and build its security forces to prevent Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Pakistan from moving back into Afghanistan.

Again, my position is that our nation should plan to begin, by September 2010, withdrawal of ground combat units now carrying out the generally defensive mission across Afghanistan. Yes, the United States must establish an exit strategy and deadlines for the use of our ground combat units. We should continue to provide logistics, intelligence, special operations, training, and air support units for conducting offensive missions, with Afghanistan's forces, in the fight against Al Qaeda and its allied groups. We should continue to support the people of Afghanistan with aid for education, infrastructure and job creation.

In contrast, Republican Mike Coffman of the 6th Congressional District, whom I am running against in the November 2010 election, refuses to support our commander in chief or our troops with anything other than conflicting rhetoric.

On March 30, 2009, after the President had released his new strategy for Afghanistan, Mr. Coffman is quoted in 5280 Magazine as saying, "it is irresponsible for this administration to be throwing additional personnel and resources into Afghanistan without having fully developed the necessary planning first."

Two months later, on June 3, 2009, Michael Riley of the Denver Post reported that Mr. Coffman has concluded, "that even with the planned expansion of U. S. troops in Afghanistan, the military's presence there is still much less than what will be necessary to successfully defeat the Taliban and the country's renewed insurgency."

On June 16, 2009, Mr. Coffman voted against supporting the troops in the supplemental funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, on September 11, 2009, no less, Mr. Coffman released the following statement which is posted on his website, "As we mourn the thousands of Americans that were killed on September 11, 2001 and the even greater number of family members and loved ones who suffered an immeasurable loss, we must remember that we still face an enemy who plots to kill innocent civilians and disrupt our way of life....."The President and Congress must stay resolute and continue to provide our troops with the resources they need to achieve victory and complete the job that has been asked of them."

We must have leaders in Washington who will put politics aside and truly work to move this country forward, support our troops and ensure that our children grow up to live in a peaceful and prosperous country. For the future, and beyond the conflict in Afghanistan and other regional concerns, I support the development of a national security strategy for the 21st Century: one that includes our allies and the exercise of all aspects of national power before committing troops; one that drives a revitalization of our intelligence capability; and one that transforms the U. S. military and its departments so that we can deploy units capable of special operations, peacemaking and the other operations necessary to win the hearts and minds of the people in the villages of the world where U.S. marines, soldiers, sailors, or airmen may find themselves someday.