On a rainy Monday night at Dover Air Force Base last week, I joined President Trump for the final homecoming of Sgt. First Class Javier J. Gutierrez and Sgt. First Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, who gave their lives the prior weekend in Afghanistan.
I will never forget the soldiers saluting their fallen brothers, the weight of the silence in the air as they carried the flag-draped transfer cases off a military transport plane, or the grief of the families shattered by loss.
Two more of America’s young heroes gone in an instant in our longest war.
Last year marked the 18th since we invaded Afghanistan after the horrific 9/11 attacks. I supported our initial response, and I would have voted to authorize force had I been in Congress at the time.
Our soldiers once again made our country proud and quickly achieved a decisive victory.
But what I cannot support is politicians’ nation-building effort following that victory that continues nearly two decades later and leaves our troops embedded in a quagmire.
In December 2019, The Washington Post published “The Afghanistan Papers,” a series of investigative reports drawn from once-classified memos from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and some 400 interviews conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) with those with firsthand knowledge of the war effort.
The Post’s report confirms my worst suspicions about the problems inherent with nation-building.
The Afghanistan Papers tell of a directionless war, lacking clear or even achievable objectives. They reveal government spinning statistics to the American people to present a different picture than what was happening on the ground. They show a massive waste of taxpayer resources and widespread corruption in Afghanistan.
In 2015, now-former Ambassador and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, whom the Post noted “served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations,” told SIGAR, “[W]e were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing.”
“We were burning $400 million per month at one point,” the Papers quote an official at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as saying. That official added, “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason” and noted that “10% of what we spent would have been appropriate.”
Our servicemen and women go above and beyond their assignments, and they and their families risk everything for our country. They deserve Congress’ very best. That means sending them to war only in accordance with our Constitution- giving them a clear, consistent mission with an endgame, and ensuring maximum oversight and accountability.
The day after returning from Dover Air Force Base, I continued my efforts to provide such support by holding a hearing on the Afghanistan Papers, featuring testimony from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, Lieutenant General Lute, former Ambassador Richard A. Boucher, and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis.
In his written testimony, Lt. Col. Davis stated: “Countering terrorist threats in Afghanistan does not require permanent U.S. ground forces. America’s global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and strike (ISR-Strike) capabilities are more sophisticated today than ever before; terrorist communications and training facilities are more easily detected and monitored. The U.S. military can identify, target, and eliminate direct threats anywhere around the globe, even in Afghanistan.”
Yet, there is no greater bipartisanship on Capitol Hill than when it comes to sending more troops to more places forever.
That’s one reason I cheered President Trump’s statement that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” I support him in seeking to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan, and I will continue to urge him to push further. In March 2019, in a bipartisan move that goes against the congressional norm, I introduced a bill with Senator Tom Udall that would end the war while setting a framework for peace, providing bonuses to those who have served, and redirecting the savings to our pressing domestic needs.
Just as government cannot provide absolute safety at home, it cannot guarantee perpetual stability abroad. Nation-building only endangers our troops.
We have already lost thousands in Afghanistan, with tens of thousands more wounded.
Last year – that 18th anniversary year – saw the highest number of U.S. combat casualties there since 2014.
As I said during my hearing last week, the Afghanistan Papers make it “crystal clear” that “doing nothing is no longer an option for any senator or member of Congress with a conscience.”
End it. Bring our soldiers home.