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Get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan

By Keith Ellison, Special to CNN
updated 1:11 PM EDT, Tue May 1, 2012
U.S. soldiers stop traffic on the road to the governor's compound in Kandahar, scene of a deadly battle on April 28.
U.S. soldiers stop traffic on the road to the governor's compound in Kandahar, scene of a deadly battle on April 28.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Keith Ellison: Two-thirds of Americans think it's time to take U.S. troops out of Afghanistan
  • We accomplished our mission, he writes: Bin Laden, al Qaeda leaders are dead
  • The cost of troops in Afghanistan takes away from U.S. communities, he says
  • Ellison: The funds are better spent supporting Mideast democracy movements

Editor's note: Keith Ellison is a Democratic member of Congress from Minnesota's 5th District and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

(CNN) -- One year ago, the enemy that had haunted America for nearly a decade met his end in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to the United States because of President Obama's leadership and strong national security policies. Good intelligence practices and surgical counterterrorism operations enabled us to kill 20 of al Qaeda's top 30 leaders, including bin Laden. This is an accomplishment by any measure.

We have diminished al Qaeda's strength, so for the sake of our economic and national security, we should decrease our military presence and bring our troops home from Afghanistan as soon as is safely possible.

The American people agree. According to the latest New York Times/CBS poll, more than two-thirds of Americans think that the United States should no longer be at war in Afghanistan.

Keith Ellison
Keith Ellison

The president's plan started by withdrawing 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan between June and December 2011. The 33,000 "surge" troops assigned in 2009 are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by this summer. We will continue the troop drawdown until 2014 when, if all goes according to plan, a strengthened Afghan force and NATO troops will maintain peace.

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But with our core mission of decimating al Qaeda in Afghanistan accomplished, is the continuing military presence until 2014 worth the cost? More than 1,900 Americans have died in Afghanistan, and more than 15,000 have been wounded. Attacks with improvised explosive devices increased last year and have caused a surge in double amputees. A recent study found that one in four Afghanistan and Iraq veterans were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder between 2004 and 2009.

Unlike the United States' adversaries of the 20th century, al Qaeda is a mobile force that is not confined by borders. According to CIA reports, in 2010 there were fewer than 100 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Clearly this small number does not warrant our large-scale troop presence there, which peaked at 100,000 last year.

The justification that we should stay in Afghanistan to prevent al Qaeda's return is unconvincing. Al Qaeda operates in lawless states, such as Yemen and Somalia, with relative ease. But it makes no sense to put tens of thousands of boots on the ground in those countries. Since our enemy is not limited by borders, why do we continue to put the lives of our brave troops at risk and spend billions of taxpayer dollars to secure one country?

Communities nationwide feel the financial effects of keeping our troops in Afghanistan. Republicans are demanding drastic domestic spending cuts that are hurting people here at home. At the same time, the proposed budget for the war in Afghanistan for 2013 is $88 billion. The annual cost to support one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan is more than $1 million, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That figure would employ about 35 Americans here at home through federal infrastructure spending.

Instead of spending billions on a war that is not making us safer, we could better advance U.S. national security by providing greater support to people in Middle Eastern countries fighting for freedom and democracy.

Supporting their democratic aspirations and protecting their human rights, not just with words but also through bold actions, is the surest way to turn back anti-Americanism and terrorism in the region.

Congress should support President Obama in making these changes.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Keith Ellison.

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