A Timetable for Afghanistan is Key to a Broader Security Strategy

Today I introduced bipartisan legislation, along with Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), requiring a timetable to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The legislation is one component of a comprehensive national security strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates around the world. Below are several key elements of the strategy, which include improving our intelligence capacity, pursuing al Qaeda's global network, improving the reach of our diplomats and addressing the conditions that enable al Qaeda to thrive.

Pursuing al Qaeda's Global Network

The U.S. cannot continue to jump from one perceived "central front in the war on terror" to the next, nor should we invest our resources this way. Al Qaeda, its affiliates and sympathizers will continue to look for new safe havens in places like Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and elsewhere around the globe. Rather than investing a disproportionate amount of our resources into Afghanistan, where al Qaeda now has a limited presence, we should transition to a more sustainable counter-terrorism approach for the region and shift resources to more aggressively pursue al Qaeda's global network. Ending al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan remains a top priority, but a massive military presence in Afghanistan won't accomplish this, and could actually contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan.

Rather than spending $100 billion in Afghanistan in one year, primarily on military operations, we should provide assistance to the people of Afghanistan to fight corruption and support the emergence of more responsive and capable government institutions that can address socioeconomic and political issues feeding instability. And we must retain a capability for targeted counterterrorism efforts, consistent with a strategy to fight al Qaeda around the world.

Improving Our Intelligence Capacity

We need better intelligence about al Qaeda and its affiliates. Conditions around the world that allow al Qaeda to operate are often apparent to State Department and other officials who gather information openly, and do not necessarily require clandestine collection of intelligence. But the information that these officials collect is not being fully integrated with the work done by the intelligence community. Unless we reform how our government collects, reports and analyzes information from around the world, we will remain a step behind al Qaeda's global network.

Improving the Reach of our Diplomats

Where U.S. diplomats have limited presence, we will we never truly understand what is going on in a country or region, and we won't be able to build relationships with the local population. We need to increase our diplomatic access to important countries and regions by, for example, establishing new embassy posts, such as in northern Nigeria.

Addressing Conditions that Enable Al Qaeda and Its Affiliates to Recruit and Operate

I support initiatives and policies to address local conditions in places like Yemen that continue to enable al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers to recruit and operate. Congress has passed legislation I authored to develop a comprehensive stabilization and reconstruction strategy for Somalia, a nation where al Shebaab, a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, has grown and strengthened. Instead of seeing the fight against al Qaeda as a largely military operation, we must recognize the importance of a comprehensive, global counterterrorism strategy that emphasizes security sector reform, human rights, economic development, transparency, good governance, accountability, and the rule of law.

Cross-posted from The Hill