Afghanistan and Pakistan
Afghanistan-based al-Qaida terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, and Afghanistan and Pakistan remain a central front in our fight against Islamic extremists. The previous administration took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan by invading Iraq, stretching our resources too thin and distracting us from the war against al-Qaida. But in recent years, the United States and our allies have committed enough personnel and resources to realistically address the threats we face in Afghanistan, and our men and women in uniform continue to courageously meet these challenges.
Afghanistan is where al-Qaida plotted its 9/11 attacks against us, and our forces achieved a major objective by killing Osama bin Laden. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and Afghan security forces continue to take the fight to al-Qaida and the Taliban, but Islamic extremists in the region still present a threat. As the United States draws down its forces, it’s time for the Afghan government to start taking the lead in securing its country. The importance of the overall mission to achieve stability hasn’t changed, and the United States must continue to support the Afghans in this effort. It is in our national interest to continue to support that mission, because we can't afford for the region to become a haven for terrorists to attack Americans again - and we can't afford for nuclear weapons in neighboring Pakistan to fall into the wrong hands.
As a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, it is my duty to oversee our country's military commitments, ensure that our troops have the resources they need to achieve their mission and ensure that our military and civilian efforts in the region are supported by the best intelligence possible. I receive regular briefings while in Washington, D.C., but visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan in person enables me to have an understanding of the realities on the ground in a way that no briefing - no matter how thorough - can fully capture.
In October 2011, I conducted my fourth congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan, and my third to the region as a Senator. Although many things have changed over the years, one thing that remains constant is the dedication and professionalism of our troops. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Colorado continue to do heroic and essential work in Afghanistan, and I am always mindful of their hard work and sacrifice in defense of our security and our freedom.
While the road to stability in Afghanistan is still fraught with challenges, the most viable way to sustain security gains is to build the capabilities of the Afghans themselves. Although our mission to train and mentor Afghan National Security Forces has been a top priority for some time, we are beginning to hand off security responsibilities to Afghan forces, who will have the lead security role throughout the country by late 2014. Pakistan is also a significant part of the challenge we face, and we must continue to hold it accountable - a message I have delivered to the highest levels of the Pakistani government.
I am deeply disturbed by the trend of so-called “insider attacks” by Afghan security forces against our troops, and by the increasing number of Taliban attacks against civilian targets. I continue to monitor the situation closely and receive frequent updates from our senior military leaders and diplomatic personnel in the region, and I will continue to support the brave Coloradans - and all American service members - who are serving with great courage and honor.
As we move forward, I intend to keep our mission in Afghanistan focused on achievable and specific goals that rely not only on our military power but also on diplomacy and civilian expertise.
During the debate on the FY13 NDAA, the Senate adopted my amendment (#2985) to protect the DOD's ability to research and develop alternative fuels by vote of 62-37. Republicans and Democrats alike agreed with my view that we can no longer afford to send billions of dollars on foreign oil when we have the capability to produce drop-in alternative fuels right here at home. The Department of Defense spent over $15 billion in 2012 for fuel, and global oil prices continue to rise. My amendment allows DOD to continue to spend a very small percentage of their budget to develop technologies that will save billions of dollars and provide enormous strategic benefits in the near future. Energy security is national security, and military fuels research will help us move closer to a stronger, safer country.
In Afghanistan, our troops have been doing incredible work in preparing their Afghan partners to take responsibility for their own security. However, an outbreak of attacks by Afghan National Security Forces personnel killed a number of U.S. troops and undermined the trust necessary to accomplish their joint mission. In order to protect our men and women in uniform, we must understand the nature of the threat and take immediate steps to prevent future attacks. That's why I joined with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 that requires the Department of Defense to provide Congress with their strategy for stopping these so-called "green-on-blue" attacks. Our amendment was included in the final version of the NDAA signed by President Obama.
Read the op-ed I authored in the Denver Post addressing the growing problem of obesity and its impacts on our health, health care spending and quality of military recruits.
Read the op-ed I wrote in Stars and Stripes on the importance of securing our energy future and improving our national security by investing in the military's use and development of alternative-fuel technology.
On Nov. 3, 2011, I co-sponsored Senator Tom Udall's bipartisan Open Burn Pit Registry Act (S.1798) because our service members overseas are too frequently exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from burn pits used to incinerate trash including human waste, plastic, batteries, scrap metals, solvents, and other potentially hazardous materials. We must do more to track and identify those exposed to hazardous chemicals from burn pits, to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to better understand and treat the threat posed by exposure to these fumes. Our servicemen and women put their lives on the line for our safety, and in return we have promised to provide them with the best possible care. I will always fight to protect and promote the health of our men and women in uniform. This important provision was included in S. 3202, the "Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012," that passed the Senate on December 19, 2012. A related measure was also included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.