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 in 2001. 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, and I have long advocated for the withdrawal of our forces. We must recognize, however, that the Taliban remains active in Afghanistan and poses a real threat to the political stability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with unresolved conflicts with its neighbor India, also a nuclear power. Our military efforts in “Af-Pak” are drawing to a close, and our concern now must be to support local authorities and those within civil society committed to peace, democratic government and the rule of law.
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 believe the Iraq war distracted us from Afghanistan. If we had, early on, committed sufficient troops and resources and followed through with the country's reconstruction, we might have prevented the resurgence of the Taliban and its expansion into the western provinces of Pakistan.
I continue to be very concerned about the aftermath of our involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither country is stable, and al Qaeda appears to grow in strength throughout the Middle East and in many places in Africa. Our policies 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 terrorist networks or that internal conflicts may make them unable to do so.
I do believe, however, that the U.S. remains justified in pursuing al-Qaeda and its off-shoots globally so that we may fend off future attacks on our country. We need also to develop coherent policies to meet the social, economic, and political conditions in which they find it so easy to recruit hopeless young people.