Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Over the August recess, I had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan. During my trip, I met with some of our generals and troops who are fighting on the front lines every day. During those meetings, they reinforced for me their courage and determination to win the fight against the Taliban and the terrorists.
“I also learned more about the determination of the Afghan people. One part of the trip took me to a vocational school, where young Afghani men and women were receiving training in English, computers, car repair and other skills so that they could help pull their families – and their country – out of poverty and toward a brighter day.
“Despite years of chaos and bloodshed, despite many families torn apart by war, the young people I met were still brimming with hope. Seeing these young men and women study together, I was reminded of the difference the United States has made by aiding their fight against the Taliban.
“The courage of our troops and the Afghan people was inspiring. But there was another conclusion that I could not avoid: the progress I saw is being terribly undermined by deteriorating security. I returned to America more convinced than ever that the greatest threat to our national security lies in Afghanistan and Pakistan – and these places must be our central focus.
Today, one day from the seventh anniversary of the most violent terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil, the mastermind of that attack – Osama Bin Laden – remains free.
“For all the tough rhetoric of chasing Bin Laden to the gates of hell, the Bush Administration has failed to put the necessary resources and manpower into the hunt for America’s No. 1 enemy. President Bush has rightly said that the war on terror is about more than just one man. Yet seven years after 9/11, the President has allowed that one man’s vast al Qaeda network regroup in its safe haven in Pakistan. And in Afghanistan, the sad fact is that the Taliban – the brutally oppressive regime that housed Bin Laden and al Qaeda – is on the rise, attacking our troops and innocent Afghan civilians.
“We must be clear-eyed in our realization that the very same people who attacked us then continue to regain strength and threaten us now. This dire situation could have been avoided. When President Bush took us into Afghanistan following September 11th, Democrats, our country and the world stood with him. We knew it was a fight we must wage and win.
“But after a series of military victories, the President lost focus and turned instead to an ill-conceived war in Iraq. With the job unfinished in Afghanistan, the President devoted our troops and treasure to another battlefield. Predictably, with focus shifted, Afghanistan began to backslide, with neighborhoods once reclaimed from the enemy becoming battlegrounds once again.
“The reason for these failures is no mystery. No matter how hard the Republican spin machine tries to rewrite history and obscure the truth, the fact is that the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Yet George Bush, John McCain and their Republican allies chose to shift our resources away from where our enemy lives and into a place that had nothing to do with al Qaeda.
“Afghanistan is a far larger country than Iraq, with a much larger population, and far rougher terrain. Yet today, we have 34,000 American forces in Afghanistan and 146,000 in Iraq. Afghanistan is much poorer than Iraq – one of the poorest countries in the world – yet we have spent $170 billion in Afghanistan, and nearly $650 billion in Iraq. Afghanistan is the home of Al Qaeda, the home of the Taliban, and the central front of the War on Terror. Yet there are more than three times as many troops in Iraq and we have spent nearly four times as much money there.
“The result of this Republican failure is clear: after a drop in violence early in the Afghanistan war, the Taliban came back with a vengeance in mid-2006. By that time, we didn’t have enough troops on the ground to respond. The troops we needed were 1,500 miles away, in Iraq.
“The commander of American forces in the region, Admiral William Fallon, put it this way in January: ‘Back in 2001, early 2002, the Taliban were pretty much vanquished. But my sense looking back is that we moved focus to Iraq, which was the priority from 2003 on, and the attention and the resources focused on a different place.’
“With resources focused on a different place, as Admiral Fallon said, here is what we are now seeing:
- In July, nearly twice as many U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq;
- June was the second deadliest month in Afghanistan for coalition and U.S. forces since the start of the war;
- In Eastern Afghanistan, attacks on coalition troops increased by 40 percent over the first five months of this year;
- Roadside bombings have increased; and
- Opium production is up, with Afghanistan producing 93 percent of the world’s opium.
“And President Bush’s failures in Iraq and Afghanistan have had consequences beyond the borders of those two countries. This morning, the bipartisan American Security Project issued a report noting that attacks by violent terrorist groups around the world are at an all time high – and this is without counting terrorist attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their report also notes that ungoverned spaces continue to provide sanctuary for terrorist organizations, including Afghanistan, East and North Africa, and Somalia.
“Yesterday, President Bush had one last chance to meaningfully change his strategy and begin to reverse all these backsliding trends. He chose not to. He chose to stick with the status quo and not make significant changes. And unfortunately, we have seen no reason to believe that a John McCain presidency would offer any break from the failed Bush foreign policy.
“For all his talk about listening to the commanders on the ground, George Bush is dangerously deaf to the calls of our commanders in Afghanistan. In the words of Admiral Mullen, ‘I’ve made no secret of my desire to flow more forces, U.S. forces, to Afghanistan just as soon as I can, nor have I been shy about saying that those forces will not be available unless or until the situation in Iraq permits us to do so.’
“We know today that no more than a token shift of troop levels will take place until we have a new President committed to winning the war on terror by fighting the actual terrorists. That will require a new approach to Iraq, Afghanistan, and also Pakistan.
“We have seen in Pakistan a dangerous approach by President Bush of placing all our bets on one man – General Musharraf. That was a fatal and avoidable blunder. Musharraf did not implement democracy, did not uphold human rights and did not stop the terrorists operating inside Pakistan’s borders. American dollars meant to fight terrorism were wasted. The Pakistani people suffered, and the United States lost credibility with them for supporting a dictator who did not uphold their basic rights. Because of President Bush’s failed approach to Pakistan, we have now seen al Qaeda regroup within its borders.
“According to the declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate of July 2007 titled ‘The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland,’ al Qaeda has ‘protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including a safe haven in the Pakistani Federal Administered Tribal Areas.’ The intelligence agencies reiterated this a few weeks ago, saying that al Qaeda ‘has maintained or strengthened key elements of its capability to attack the United States in the past year.’
“During our time in Afghanistan, from our meetings with President Karzai to our meetings with American generals, one message was clear: we cannot solve the problem in Afghanistan without solving the problem in Pakistan.
“Those concerned with the writing of our history books will have ample opportunity to delve into the Bush failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in far greater detail than I have done in my remarks. The historians will note that on George Bush’s watch, the Taliban grew stronger, running their operations from terrorist bases inside Pakistan. They will note that under George Bush’s watch, al Qaeda regrouped, ready to carry out other attacks against the United States. And they will note that on George Bush’s watch, our national security was jeopardized and the threats that led to the attacks in 2001 are as grave if not graver in 2008.
“Our job in Congress is not to do the job of the historians, but to answer one question: Where do we go from here? President Bush gave his answer to that question yesterday. His answer was: we don’t go anywhere. We stay exactly where we are.
“John McCain has made it clear that he stands in place with George Bush. With due respect due to the President and Senator McCain, the status quo has failed. They are out of touch with the realities and ramifications of our efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I saw in Afghanistan a people eager, desperate and ready to lift their country to democracy, equality and economic opportunity, but held down by the weight of an enemy we failed to destroy. I hope that in the coming months, our courageous, overworked, overstretched, overstressed troops can continue to hold off the enemy without the full resources and manpower necessary to complete the mission. And I hope that the American people will have the wisdom to choose a leader who will take the war on terror back to the terrorists and look the Afghan people in the eye and say that help is on the way.”