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First Vote on Afghanistan in Post-Bin Laden World This Week

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NOTE: Congressman Garamendi will be available in comments periodically today and tomorrow to answer questions on the National Defense Authorization Act, including the war in Afghanistan and the dangerous Section 1034 limitless war powers declaration.

This week the House of Representatives will have an opportunity to vote on the war in Afghanistan -- the first House-wide vote on Afghanistan since the death of Osama bin Laden. I have proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit our focus in Afghanistan to counterterrorism as opposed to counterinsurgency, calling for a swift and significant drawdown of troops that is consistent with this narrowing of our mission. Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), Walter Jones (R-NC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) are proposing similar amendments. Whichever of these comes to the Floor, the message sent from Congress should be clear: we need to pivot away from this costly nation-building strategy and to start bringing our troops home.

Last week, in a 60-1 vote, I was the sole dissenter to the NDAA at the Armed Services Committee, largely because I cannot in good conscience vote for a bill that vote for any bill that extends the ten-year counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan and needlessly puts the lives of service members at risk.

In the face of an ongoing international terrorist threat and economic challenges at home, it is time to shift from a broad counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan to a laser-like focus on combating terrorists wherever they exist. Maintaining 100,000 troops in a country the size of Texas, at a cost of $10 billion a month, is simply not an effective way to fight a global and decentralized enemy, and drains our resources when we need them most.

Instead, we must maintain a laser-like focus on Al Qaeda and other terrorists, tracking them down wherever they try to establish roots, and we must redirect our resources toward building up our own nation, investing in the kinds of programs that will sustain our leadership in the global economy. After nearly a decade of war, costing substantial blood and treasure, the U.S. public is ready for this shift. Members of Congress need to be as well.

The killing of Osama bin Laden marks a critical juncture in our ongoing fight against terrorism, and an appropriate moment for re-evaluating our policy. In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Congress authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan to eliminate Al Qaeda and to bring to justice those who would maim and kill innocent civilians. Our troops fought bravely and now only 100 Al Qaeda members are estimated to remain in Afghanistan. But this initial military action has turned into the longest war in our nation's history, while Al Qaeda now expands into places like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and even the United States.

Keeping America safe is Congress's most sacred responsibility, and as a member of the Armed Services Committee I take that responsibility particularly seriously. So we must ask ourselves: Does it advance America's security to maintain 100,000 troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan while Al Qaeda expands throughout the globe? Does it advance America's security to spend $120 billion a year trying to build a democratic state in Afghanistan while we run up our deficit and cut fundamental programs in our own country? Does it advance America's security to pour resources into backing the Karzai government in Afghanistan's civil war while we reduce funding for local law enforcement at home -- even when our own CIA has determined that the most likely terrorist threats may be homegrown? The answer to these questions is definitively "no."

At this turning point in our long struggle against terrorism, it is time to realign our strategy with our goals. Shifting our mission from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism and accelerating the drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would allow us to achieve the dual objectives of pursuing terrorists wherever they might emerge, and of rebuilding our domestic economy. Both are absolutely fundamental to our national security. Ultimately, America's strength depends as much on our economic vitality as on our military might, and spending billions of dollars a week in Afghanistan, not to mention the long-term costs of things like caring for our veterans and servicing our debt, is a form of economic suicide.

This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history, and a time when decisions by Congress and the Administration will have a major impact on our national security, now and into the future. Defense Secretary Gates recently stated, "Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined'." We need to get our big American land army out of Afghanistan. We owe it to our troops, and we owe it to the citizens we represent, to ensure that not one extra dollar is spent, and not one new life is lost, in an open-ended war that is not critical to our core national security interests.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA), a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

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