I just returned from Afghanistan. It's a land like none other, and the stakes of our efforts there could not be higher. It's a country graced with remarkable snow-capped mountains reminiscent of the Colorado Rockies, but ravaged by levels of turmoil and poverty almost unthinkable to the average American.
I spent no more than 36 hours in the country, but having only slept a few hours in a retrofit shipping container on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, I managed to visit several areas of the country. I got a glimpse of what our men and women in uniform - and regular Afghans - face there every day.
If there is a message I want to convey, it is that we cannot allow the Taliban or Al Qaeda to defeat us in this part of the world.
The American people understand who attacked us on 9-11. They also understand that after nearly 7 years we still haven't fully defeated the Taliban, or Al Qaeda and we haven't eliminated Osama bin Laden. Finishing those jobs are critical, and we have to get them done.
Afghanistan and Pakistan are the true central front of the fight against Islamic terrorism and I believe the U.S. needs to do more to counter growing instability in those countries. However, I am deeply concerned that the Bush Administration's focus on nation-building in Iraq has led us to neglect nation-building in Afghanistan.
I opposed the war in Iraq in part, because I was worried that this would happen -- and my fears have borne out. We are not losing in Afghanistan, but unless we can secure more resources -- including additional NATO forces -- we could lose ground in this critical part of the world, and the consequences would be disastrous.
The Administration is belatedly coming around to the view that we need more forces in Afghanistan. A 'surge' in Afghanistan makes sense, but it should be linked to a redeployment strategy I've called for in Iraq.
In other words, we should begin the process of a careful phased redeployment of forces from Iraq and deploy some troops where we can, to strengthen Afghanistan. That's the basis for a resolution I am supporting in Congress.
The Bush Administration has failed to make Iraq the world's project; but we cannot allow the same to happen in Afghanistan. Afghanistan should be an easier place for us to call on international support -- and if we can regain some of our diplomatic credibility in the region and globally by doing the right thing in Iraq, I believe there is still time to get it right in Afghanistan.
As I traveled through Afghanistan, with temperatures dipping to 5 or 10 below zero, I could not help but be in awe of our troops and the work they are doing with the Afghan people to make their country a stable and secure place to live. I cannot overstate how extremely grave it is that this Administration has missed so many opportunities in Afghanistan. That said, with the right priorities and a continued international presence, we can -- and must -- bring lasting stability to this country.
Learn more about Mark Udall at http://www.markudall.com