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2009-10-08 digital edition

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2009-10-08 / General Stories

U.S. & NATO Must Act Swiftly, Decisively for Afghanistan Success

by U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Just a few short months ago, President Obama summed up our responsibilities in Afghanistan when he said, "This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity.... This is fundamental to the defense of our people."

But even the strongest words are meaningless absent decisive action.

Since the President made that rhetorically resolute statement, the difficulties have become increasingly evident. We've seen a spike in coalition deaths, the Afghan government has held a Presidential election fraught with violence and fraud, and combat operations have intensified under the growing vigor of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Consequently, General Stanley McChrystal, the Commander of Forces in Afghanistan, called for a full counterinsurgency strategy to halt the escalating brutality of the Taliban in an August 28th assessment. General McChrystal said in no uncertain terms that if America doesn't commit more troops to help meet these growing threats, the mission "will likely result in failure."

If our response to the shifting circumstances on the ground is anemic, we will not only risk broad defeat, but we will place the lives of tens of thousands of Americans who are currently fighting at risk. We must not put American forces on the battlefield and ask them to defeat an emboldened enemy without adequate troop strength and resources. The grim reality is that, while the administration ponders General McChrystal's request for reinforcements, 43 U.S. troops have been killed in combat in Afghanistan in the past month.

Despite the military commander's stern warning that we must quickly sharpen our strategy and strengthen our forces, the Administration's response is striking in its lack of urgency. It was recently reported that President Obama has spoken with General McChrystal one time in 70 days. Only after the media seized on this disturbing fact did the President schedule another brief in-person meeting with our commander in Afghanistan. This seems to be a small investment of time and interest when there are American men and women laying down their lives in service to this country.

President Obama should impress upon NATO countries that if we don't defeat the Taliban resurgence and prevent a new al- Qaeda safe haven from developing in Afghanistan, our common security is at stake. Most NATO members - with a few exceptions, most notably, Great Britain - have limited their activities in Afghanistan and have done almost nothing in Iraq. This leaves a heavy burden on the United States. I would urge the President to request more support from other NATO members for the required build-up of forces to secure Afghanistan and to help stop the export of terrorism from that region to the rest of the world. If NATO is going to be a military force, it must focus on the right strategy for success in our joint security.

We need to prevent ungoverned territory in Afghanistan from being used by terrorists with global reach, and that can only be accomplished through a strong and stable Afghan government with robust security forces. Afghanistan will not be stabilized without the help of the NATO alliance.

We should not forget the horrors of September 11 on American soil - or the subway bombings in London and Madrid. The terrifying reality is that those attacks were only a taste of what terrorists with global reach might accomplish if they have uncontested territory from which to operate. If NATO can't succeed in Afghanistan, where we all agree NATO must succeed, our 60 year partnership will be weakened and our effectiveness in meeting future challenges will be undermined.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addressed the Atlantic Council in September. His statements signaled NATO's enduring commitment to the alliance and the protection of the free world. He even echoed the President's words that the war in Afghanistan is not one of choice, but one of necessity.

However, words without action will not protect the Afghan people or relieve the American men and women who are bearing so much of this war's burden. Words alone will not defeat the Taliban or eradicate al-Qaeda. They will not keep the free world free. I call on President Obama and our partners alike to solidify their statements with action. Their words must be bolstered by decisive steps and a demonstrated commitment on the part of the United States and the NATO alliance to successfully complete this mission.

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