May 1, 2011 marked a significant victory in the war on terror. US Navy Seals found and killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. It was an emotional day for our nation, and especially for the families of those lost to the terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. The fact that bin Laden was found in Pakistan emphasizes the complexity of our relations with that country and the difficulties we face in many places. President Obama noted that “close counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan” helped us locate him and that Pakistani civilians too had been the victims of terrorist attacks. Yet, bin Laden had been living near a major army base, not far from the capital city of Islamabad.
In the aftermath of 9/11, I supported the use of force in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime sheltered and supported al Qaeda terrorists who attacked our country and made plain its determination to continue protecting these terrorists. Thus I voted to authorize use of force in 2001 against those responsible for the September 11 attacks (P.L. 107-40). President Bush rightly determined that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was providing shelter and material support to al-Qaeda, and he sent U.S. forces to Afghanistan to root out the terrorists. That goal has been largely achieved, terrorists driven from Afghanistan, and this is why our military efforts there should draw to a close.
I do believe, however, that the U.S. remains justified in pursuing al-Qaeda and its terrorist networks globally so that we may fend off future attacks on our country. I wish we had committed sufficient troops and resources to complete our mission in Afghanistan much more quickly and follow through with the country's reconstruction. This strategy might have prevented the “Talibanization” of the western provinces of Pakistan.
I opposed the invasion of Iraq. In October of 2002, I voted against granting President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq and I consistently spoke out against his conduct of the war. Under the leadership of President Obama, combat troops have now left Iraq.
I continue to be very concerned about our level of involvement in Afghanistan. I have advocated for withdrawal from Afghanistan for quite some time and I am not satisfied with the 2014 deadline for the end of NATO combat operations. Maybe the death of bin Laden will result in advancing this goal. We must plan for the orderly redeployment of troops and rethink our approach to fighting terrorism in that region and globally. The Taliban pose a real challenge to the political stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with unresolved conflicts with its neighbor India, which is also a nuclear power. Our rethinking must also be mindful of the “Arab Spring” we sympathize with the democratic aspirations of all people but we recognize that new regimes may be less willing to cooperate in resisting al Qaeda.