A Long-Term Commitment

The mission in Afghanistan is twofold and based on unity of effort. First, defeat the militant extremists of al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies. Second, create conditions inside Afghanistan where international terrorism could never again find support and sanctuary.

Our enemies are not fighting by conventional means. Instead, they use fourth-generation warfare, focusing on the political will of the United States. Such wars are long in duration. Al-Qaeda has been fighting for its vision of the world since the founding of Maktab al-Khidamar in 1984. Accordingly, the United States must anticipate an extended commitment.

Afghanistan is a traditional Muslim country in which the people have devoted themselves to the idea of a democratic government. They welcome coalition and U.S. forces. Mentoring and partnering Afghan organizations with NATO and coalition elements, civilian and military, is understandably critical to ongoing efforts. Afghanistan needs our expertise and our assistance, including efforts of the international community, to succeed.

Since 2001, we've made major accomplishments in Afghanistan. A terrorist-controlled regime has been defeated. Afghanistan now has a moderate constitution, a democratically elected president, a sitting parliament, a confirmed cabinet, an increasingly effective Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), a dramatic increase in expansion of key social services, and ongoing economic reconstruction and development. The ANSF is comprised of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). To date, approximately 50,000 ANA and 76,000 ANP have been trained and equipped. Units are directly engaged in security operations alongside coalition forces throughout the country. Specifically, there are five ANA corps supporting current operations, and they continue to grow in capability.

We also face major challenges. The Taliban is attempting to reconstitute. Progress toward self-governance has been slow. Narcotics trafficking is an issue here.

Our involvement in Afghanistan should be viewed in a broad context, not simply our troop presence as a result of 9/11 or a deployment to a birthplace of its terrorists. Neighboring Pakistan faces similar internal challenges, including militant extremism that grows in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) that borders Afghanistan and provides a sanctuary for insurgents.

To complete the transition from a terrorist haven to a moderate and independent state, Afghanistan will need new infrastructure, economic, social and political development, and improved governance. Military efforts must be balanced with the appropriate mix of developmental activities.

No one seeks to underestimate the challenges ahead. Our international partners expect the United States to lead the stabilization and reconstruction effort. The strong, long-term U.S. commitment that we display is making the difference and must continue with intensity.

Canada contributes well over 2,000 personnel, mostly in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. Also, there are large contingents of Dutch and British forces in southern Afghanistan. Another major contributor of troops is Italy, in western Afghanistan. The Germans are conducting stability operations in the north. Other major troop contributors are Turkey and France.

The leadership of Afghanistan is committed to active partnership in the global war on terrorism. The Afghan people and their leaders are absolutely worthy of our trust, our confidence and our support. There are no areas of Afghanistan where insurgents have been able to push that out and establish their own presence. So, it's a challenge of defeating the command and control. It's also a challenge of continuing to stand up the government of Afghanistan and push it out into new areas.

We are at a critical point. A strategic investment in Afghan capabilities is needed to accelerate the progress. This will require significant resources, time, patience, commitment and understanding.

As of Nov. 28, 110 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan during 2007, topping the previous one-year high of 99 in 2005. Altogether, no fewer than 467 U.S. servicemembers have died here since the war began in October 2001.

Our servicemembers have made extraordinary sacrifices. They have put forth extraordinary efforts. They deserve our full support and respect. It is my honor to serve with them and to continue serving the veterans of our great nation through membership in The American Legion.