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Gillibrand: War in Afghanistan Doesn’t Address Pressing Security Threats

America is just a few short months away from a decade at war in Afghanistan.

In that decade, deployed tour after tour, we’ve seen extraordinary acts of valor and heroism from our men and women in uniform and our civilian personnel. I had the honor of meeting with many of these troops, including soldiers from Fort Drum in my home state of New York, last November during a Congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was humbling to stand with our troops and to pin many with Purple Hearts for their bravery and sacrifice.

But in this decade at war in Afghanistan, America has spent more than $464 billion funding the war and developing projects in Afghanistan, with an additional $120 billion forthcoming from this Congress. That’s hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars spent on a strategy that has its long-term success constantly undermined by a corrupt Afghan government, in addition to an unreliable ally in Pakistan, whose actions have posed as many questions as answers.

It has become clear the war in Afghanistan no longer addresses the most pressing national security threats to our nation. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, has now been brought to justice. The current approach in Afghanistan has stretched our military resources thin and has limited us when new missions call on our leadership. And in the decade since the start of this war, al-Qaida has metastasized, expanding and strengthening its influence across the globe.

The failed bombing attack on the Northwest flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 is proof that the group has strengthened its hold in the Arabian Peninsula, with the capability to attack us from Yemen. Another bombing attempt on New York’s Times Square last spring was the result of a terrorist plot conceived and carried out from Pakistan.

Al-Qaida’s use of the Internet has expanded its recruitment efforts, garnering new would-be terrorists from the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Africa — and particularly in Somalia and Yemen, where the threat of an attack now outweighs the threat from Afghanistan. In fact, Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress, “Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula … [is] the most likely to pull off attacks inside the United States.”

As I have advocated for months, it is time to refocus America’s military strategy in order to address today’s threats to our national security.

For this reason, I will continue to call for a clear plan to both end America’s war in Afghanistan and focus our fight against al-Qaida’s terror networks worldwide in more nimble ways.

I am calling for the passage of the Safe and Responsible Redeployment of United States Combat Forces From Afghanistan Act.

This will implement and build on President Barack Obama’s strategy to draw down troops starting this summer and fully withdraw by 2014. The legislation would begin the withdrawal of combat forces from Afghanistan on July 1 of this year and would require Obama to submit a plan to Congress by July 31 for their redeployment from Afghanistan, including a completion date.

A completion date will create a sense of urgency for Afghan leaders to take security into their own hands. To address this, I have written to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting the negotiation of a strategic redeployment agreement.

This agreement — which would be based on the model used to withdraw combat forces from Iraq — could establish conditions beyond 2014 for a continued, but modest, noncombat mission in Afghanistan (such as an ongoing counterterrorism mission) along with the training of Afghan forces and civilian security, health care, education and development projects. The redeployment document would maintain the agreements in place today that protect our personnel in Afghanistan and provide us with the freedom to accomplish our mission. As occurred in Iraq, this agreement can bolster Afghanistan’s sovereignty and support long-term stability.

One of the reasons I first ran for Congress — when I was elected to the House in 2006 — was so I could work to ensure America’s strength and security. Now, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I believe that America cannot afford and should not commit to an open-ended war in Afghanistan. Leaders there need to take responsibility for their own country’s security, and the United States needs to adjust the fight against terrorism to address the current threat environment.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) was named to the Armed Services Committee in February, at the start of her second year in the Senate. She sits on the Strategic Forces and the Airland subcommittees.