During August I spent 16 days traveling through lands where the horrific attacks of September 11 were planned and other strategically important Middle Eastern countries. It was a stark reminder of how long we have been fighting violent terrorists and how important it is we not give up.
—Libya: In 1986 I was a young Air Force prosecutor trying a case at RAF Lakenheath, an American Air Force Base in England. I knew Libya as a staunch enemy who had ordered bombing attacks against Americans in Europe. I was at Lakenheath when President Reagan ordered retaliatory air strikes be launched from the base. At that time, I never would have believed that one day I would travel to Libya and meet with President Mohammar Khaddafi. This visit was possible because Libya renounced terrorism and abandoned its weapons of mass destruction program in 2006. The U.S. then restored full diplomatic relations with Libya, a significant event in a troubled region.
Unfortunately, several days after our visit, the mastermind of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing was released from prison in Scotland. He received a hero’s welcome upon his return home.
Libya remains a totalitarian police state. Even with better relations with the U.S., much work remains to be done.
—Iraq: Iraq is moving in the right direction, and we are on a glide path to leaving with honor. While great progress has been made, there are still several trip wires that need to be negotiated before we can leave. The Iraqis still need to pass a hydrocarbon law to share oil revenues. Also left unresolved is a volatile border dispute between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq. Iran and Syria, fearing a democratic neighbor right next door, continue to meddle in Iraqi internal affairs. These issues present a serious challenge to the Iraqi people and must be addressed with our continued help and support.
—Yemen: In October of 2000, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist organization attacked the USS Cole and killed 17 Americans. In September of last year, al-Qaida bombed the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, the capital city. Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh has little control over most of the country and observers note an increasing al-Qaida presence. Gen. David Petraeus understands the threat we face and has a vision to stay ahead of the enemy in potential hot spots like Yemen.
—Afghanistan: I had the honor to serve in my capacity as an Air Force Reserve colonel while in Afghanistan. I spent time with the Marines in Helmand Province and dealt extensively with rule of law programs throughout Afghanistan.
I met with our new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has begun a top-to-bottom overhaul of our war policy. He has put forward a dramatically new strategy that reverses old, failed policies and prioritizes the safety of the population, legitimate and effective governance, and economic development.
Our commanders have convinced me that additional resources and combat forces are required to be successful. But I am also convinced that we should not write any blank checks. Additional resources must be accompanied by meaningful benchmarks that hold the government of Afghanistan accountable. We must ensure Afghan leaders are doing their part to combat the corruption and insecurity that undermine our shared counterinsurgency effort.
The American military and civilian personnel are bravely doing their part to fight violent extremism.
I was touched by the story of a 59-year-old Army sergeant first class who had served four tours of duty in Vietnam and came back on active duty to serve in Afghanistan. He was killed by an IED on my first day in country.
At Pol-e-Charki, the largest Afghan prison, I met several South Carolinians who are helping rebuild the prison after a series of Taliban and al-Qaida prisoner riots rocked the prison last winter. We are fortunate as a nation to have men and women like these serving in the U.S. military and civilian support.
The stakes in Afghanistan are enormous. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is next door and to walk away from the conflict would be repeating the mistakes that led to 9/11. As in Iraq, with the proper strategy, resources, and firmness in our resolve, we can prevail.
It is worth our blood and treasure to succeed there. I stand ready and willing to support President Obama if he asks for more troops. This is not President Obama’s war, but America’s war.
We must prevail.