AFGHANISTAN: TIME TO LEAVE
M. Speaker. The time has come for our military to leave Afghanistan. Afghan President Karzai's refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement should be the last straw in putting an end to what has become America's longest war.
After more than 12 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and over 2100 American servicemen and women killed in combat, it is time to bring all of our troops home now. In poll after poll, the American people have made it clear that they want our troops home. Certainly, our brave men and women in uniform and their families have done everything we have asked of them and more. We must not ask them to continue to fight, bleed and die in Afghanistan for another ten or twelve years to support a government more interested in extorting America and ripping off our tax dollars than in working with us to strengthen its own security.
M. Speaker, President Obama needs to turn this interminable conflict over to the Afghans. As of yesterday, 2,153 members of our Armed Forces have died in Afghanistan since 2001. Another 19,526 have been wounded. And every Member in this chamber knows that tens of thousands of our troops have returned home with invisible wounds to their minds and spirits. Suicide rates among our veterans are among the highest ever, and continue to climb. For many, the care required to help heal these wounds will last a lifetime. It's estimated that health care and veterans benefits for the men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost trillions of dollars. In both human and fiscal terms, we simply can't afford to waste more lives and dollars in Afghanistan.
The president has not made a case about how any number of troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 can improve the competence of Afghan forces when our current greater and more intensive engagement over the past decade has not been able to do so. It is completely unclear whether the April elections will improve the Afghan government, given its in-grown corruption, sectarian divisions and the Taliban insurgency. There are no compelling reasons to remain. We need to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghans now -- not ten years from now.
We need to bring our troops home by no later than the end of 2014, just as the president promised. If this is the so-called "zero-option," then it is the best option. We do not need to keep another 10-to-12 thousand American troops in Afghanistan for another ten years, at the cost of about $80 billion or more each year. They will continue to be in harm's way. They will continue to be carrying out dangerous operations. They will continue to be wounded, body and soul; and they will continue to be killed. And for what? So one of the most corrupt governments in the world can continue living off of our blood and treasure? So military contractors can continue lining their pockets? We're cutting programs right and left in the budget, but we're supposed to keep pouring tens of billions of dollars into Afghanistan for another decade? And all of it borrowed money charged to the national credit card. I say enough is enough.
In June, 305 Members of this House voted in support of an amendment offered by Congressmen Walter Jones, Adam Smith and myself to bring our troops home by the end of 2014 and to accelerate that process, if possible. It clearly stated that if the president determined to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, then the Congress should vote on authorizing that mission. Senators Merkley and Lee were ready to offer a similar amendment in the Senate when the defense bill was to be taken up over there. They had more than a dozen bipartisan cosponsors on their amendment.
Instead, the FY14 NDAA went into conference negotiations without debate by the full Senate. In those negotiations, the principal Senate conferees demanded that the House amendment be completely watered down. The conference language only requires the President to "consult" with Congress about any post-2014 deployment of troops. That's worthless, M. Speaker. We don't need consultation; what we need is a vote. I call on Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi to take seriously the call of 305 Members of this House and schedule a vote next year on keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Whether or not you support such a decision, the House needs to vote on it.
It's time for us in Congress to do our job. It's time we stopped asking our troops and their families to sacrifice their lives in a war that has outlived its purpose. It's time to bring our troops home. It's time to get out of Afghanistan.