We face enormous and difficult challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We have a large number of personnel and resources in the region, and many service members from military communities across the country have lost their lives. Locally, the community, family, and friends of service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been impacted particularly hard.

As the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan on a number of occasions, most recently in November 2010. During these trips I met with local officials, counterterrorism experts, and members of our military to discuss our efforts to combat terrorism and gain a firsthand understanding of the situation on the ground. We have made real and significant tactical gains in security, particularly in the south and southwestern portions of Afghanistan. The gains we have seen are real and substantial and the men and women of our Armed Forces should be commended for these achievements.  They have experienced long and frequent deployments, as well as the loss of loved ones. The high cost paid underlines why we must begin drawing down our forces in Afghanistan as soon as we responsibly can.

The key word is “responsibly.” I want to be clear—we have strong national security interests in Afghanistan.  Leaving Afghanistan immediately would have a real, and potentially substantial, downside. If the Karzai government falls after we leave and the Taliban are able to regain control of all, or even a substantial part, of the country, there is every reason to believe that their al Qaeda allies will once again be able to find safe haven in the country to plot, plan and carry out attacks against us. We can not simply walk away from the situation in Afghanistan and allow the country to fall back into the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

I do believe we need to start planning for a transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces and the redeployment of most of our military forces from Afghanistan, but I do not support cutting off funds to our troops in the field or requiring the immediate redeployment of all U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan at this time. Doing so would limit the ability of our military personnel to safely perform their missions and hinder efforts to develop competent Afghan National Security Forces who can take responsibility for security operations. We need a balanced approach and I believe the President's plan to begin drawing down our forces this year strikes the right balance.

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