John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A series of tragic events in Afghanistan has increased the desire of a war-weary public to end our mission there. As heart-wrenching as these events have been, they do not change the vital U.S. national security interests at stake in Afghanistan, nor do they mean that the war is lost. It is not. There is still a realistic path to success if the right decisions are made in the coming months.
The painful lesson we learned on Sept. 11, 2001, remains true today: What happens in Afghanistan directly affects our safety here at home. We abandoned Afghanistan in the 1990s, and the result was a fanatical regime that allowed its territory to become a base for global terror attacks, while inflicting medieval tyranny on the Afghan people, especially women. If we quit Afghanistan again, and abandon the millions of Afghans who have risked everything to be our allies in the hopes of succeeding together, the consequences will be disastrous for both our peoples.
The going nowhere strategy in Afghanistan
It does not have to be this way. Significant military progress has been made in Afghanistan — progress that we have personally witnessed over repeated visits. Four years ago, southern Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, and our coalition lacked the resources and the strategy necessary to break their momentum. Today, that situation has been reversed, thanks to the president’s surge of forces, the leadership of talented military commanders, and the courage and perseverance of our troops.
Similarly, our effort to build the Afghan National Security Forces — which was under-resourced and disorganized four years ago — has been overhauled. Growing numbers of Afghan units are increasingly capable of leading the fight. The examples of the few Afghan soldiers who despicably turned their weapons on Americans should not obscure the fact that hundreds of thousands of Afghans fight every day as our faithful allies in a common battle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban and that these Afghan patriots are wounded and killed in far greater numbers than our forces. Afghans bear an overwhelming and increasing share of this war. This should give us hope that our common goal, an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, remains achievable over time.
To sustain this fragile progress, it is critical that President Obama resist the shortsighted calls for additional troop reductions, which would guarantee failure. Our forces are slated to draw down to 68,000 by September — a faster pace than our military commanders recommended, which has significantly increased the risks for our mission. At a minimum, there should be a pause after September to assess the impact of the drawdown. It would be much better to maintain the 68,000 forces through next year’s fighting season, possibly longer.
At the strategic level, our effort continues to be undermined by the perception that the United States will again abandon Afghanistan. This suspicion makes everything our troops are trying to achieve significantly harder. It creates perverse incentives for the Taliban to keep fighting, for the Pakistani army to hedge its bets by providing support to the Taliban, and for our Afghan allies to make counterproductive decisions based on fears of a post-American future.