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THE HILL: Wars must end — Congress should clarify our mission in the Middle East

09/20/19

It is time our nation’s leaders clarify our mission in the Middle East and define victory for a new generation of warriors.

18 years ago today, the 107th Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The American people demanded action and our leaders provided a strong response.

As we always have, Americans bled around the globe to protect liberty and the national security of the U.S. and our allies. The men and women who have deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have done a remarkable job combatting terror abroad. Osama bin Laden is dead. Saddam Hussein is dead. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is standing trialAfghanistan is holding democratic elections later this month. We have pummeled Al Qaeda and kept attacks away from American soil.

While we have accomplished a great deal, we have also lost roughly 7,000 brave patriots, seen almost 70,000 physically wounded—not to mention countless invisible wounds–and currently have an estimated 20,000 or so boots on the ground in the Middle East. Now that we are a full generation into a war, Congress must answer: what is our objective?

On Sept. 18, 2001, Congress authorized the president to go after “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Today, the same authorization of force is being used to justify U.S. military activities in more than a dozen countries, including Yemen and Somalia.

Wars must eventually end. It is in our national interest to conclude them once our strategic objectives have been reached. If our objectives are not realistic and obtainable, our men and women in uniform deserve to know when the war ends. We did not have clarity of mission in Iraq, nor did we have a long-term stability plan. What was the result? ISIS filled the void. We must do better in Afghanistan to avoid a similar fate.

As we stand today, it remains necessary to decide the long-term plan for consolidating victory in Afghanistan and for stabilizing Iraq, Syria, and protecting our interests and allies in the region. Terrorism and violent extremism will never go away. Look no further than Iran, whose continued aggression toward Israel and efforts to de-stabilize the region requires serious resolve regarding our force posture and commitments to our allies there.

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