Reviewing Afghanistan

We are due to see President Obama's progress report for Afghanistan in the next couple days.

The timetable for this critical review was appropriately set a year ago, after the announcement that 30,000 more troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, increasing the total number to about 100,000.

While awaiting this report, we must keep the big picture in mind. It arrives more than 109 months into this war and counting. That's longer than the wars in Vietnam or Iraq. It's longer even than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

This is a review of the latest chapter in a war that has gone on for nine years, costing an estimated $455.5 billion dollars, and keeping thousands of our troops in harms way.

I'm glad we're reviewing this chapter. But I am wary of whether this chapter is complete. As I await the promised December 2010 review of our current progress in Afghanistan, I have become worried that many inside the administration may be attempting to downplay what is included within the report.

The report should ask the big questions about the war, what it has cost us in lives, dollars and opportunities, and include an honest assessment of the situation.

The war has cost the lives of more than one thousand American men and women, and many thousands more who have been wounded. It has cost us billions of dollars, adding to our massive deficit that will be passed on to future generations. It has cost us the opportunity to pursue equally important national security priorities such as energy independence, counter-proliferation, and countering terrorist activities in places like Yemen and Somalia.

Are these costs worth it? The men and women who fight our wars deserve an answer with a thoroughness and an honesty that honors the sacrifices they make each day.

An honest, thorough review must address the four critical challenges we face in Afghanistan: Our exit strategy, an accelerated transition to the Afghans, corruption in the Karzai government, and safe havens in Pakistan.

First, we must know details about the progress towards a timeline to reduce our military footprint. Without an aggressive timeline for reducing U.S. military support in the region, there is no incentive for Afghans to defend their villages and cities. Without a timeline, there is no exit strategy. President Obama identified July 2011 as the start of this transition, and we require a complete and thorough update about our progress to meet this deadline.

Second, we must understand what progress has been made to hand off security duties to the Afghan police and government. It helps prove that we do not have imperial ambitions in Afghanistan, and it allows the United States and its allies to bring our heroes home. U.S. and NATO troops have done an exceptional job, and it's time for the Afghans to take over more of these duties.

Third, we need to understand what progress we have made with the Karzai government. Press report after press report has detailed the rampant corruption in Afghanistan. And basic government functions like providing schools, clean water, and roads are suffering as a result of Karzai's flawed management. The U.S. and our allies have constantly filled this void in Afghan leadership. The long-term goal must be to transition responsibility and authority for the future of Afghanistan to the Afghan people.

Finally, we must know whether Pakistan has made satisfactory progress to combat insurgent safe havens within their borders. The double dealing of some in Pakistan requires more attention. Since 2001, the United States has sent more than $10.4 billion dollars to Pakistan to support humanitarian and security operations. Yet, radical militant groups along the border have only become more powerful. Amid double-dealing and without full Pakistani support, we are in many ways sending our men and women to fight in Afghanistan without a true partner.

Make no mistake, I am proud of the work our brave men and women in uniform are doing there. I am equally proud of our diplomatic workers, aid workers, and civilians who are working hard to improve the livelihood of Afghanis and to make our nation more secure. Their work is making a difference, and I was fortunate to be able to see it first hand on a trip to Afghanistan earlier this year.

But it is not their job that is in question, it is ours. We must ensure we have a clear, achievable mission in place for our soldiers to carry out.

These are hard questions that demand honest answers. We must reassess our path in Afghanistan based on the realities on the ground. Without a full report, we cannot perform the job required of us when it comes to the big question of reassessing our progress in Afghanistan.