Action in Afghanistan must happen now

As the intensity of the war in Afghanistan heats up, our commander in chief is making a critical mistake by delaying to take action on increased troop levels and next steps.

In May, President Barack Obama said, “Every day, we see evidence of the future that al Qaeda and its allies offer. It’s a future filled with violence and despair. It’s a future without opportunity or hope. That’s not what the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan want, and it’s not what they deserve.  The United States has a stake in the future of these two countries. We have learned, time and again, that our security is shared. It is a lesson that we learned most painfully on 9/11, and it is a lesson that we will not forget.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal was directed by the president to provide an assessment of what action is needed to take leadership on the war in Afghanistan. That plan was submitted on Aug. 30 and included a shift in strategy toward a policy of protecting the population and working hand-in-hand with the Afghan Security Forces to strengthen their capabilities in an expedited manner. To execute this strategy in a successful manner, Gen. McChrystal highlighted the need for greater resources, including more troops.

Since receiving the memo, the president has delayed taking the necessary steps to increase troop levels and win this war. And on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that before a decision is made on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the United States must assess the strength and viability of the Afghan government.

This is a critical mistake. Time is of the essence and any further delay only results in damage to troop morale and, more importantly, endangers the troops. Gen. McChrystal himself wrote in August, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” In the meantime, nearly two months have already passed without action, and further delays only increase the risks for our troops.

Last week, I joined several of my freshman colleagues who are also military veterans to make the case for swift and decisive action on the part of the president. It is unfair to our forces in theater to have to fight a war while the strategy remains in limbo. And it jeopardizes our nation’s ability to protect our citizens from the very real al Qaeda threats that exist. As a former Navy aviator, I know firsthand the importance of having a strong commander in chief leading our Armed Forces, especially during wartime.

President Obama seemed to understand the importance of this war before and he needs to follow his own advice now. Indecisiveness is emboldening al Qaeda and the Taliban, making the task of the American troops already there that much harder. In a very clear statement, Gen. McChrystal wrote: “Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it.” 

This is no time for political considerations, but a critical moment for our nation’s security. Republicans on Capitol Hill have maintained our steadfast support to the president with respect to winning the war in Afghanistan.  The time to act is now.

Olson is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

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