Senator Lankford Talks Ending the War in Afghanistan
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the situation in Afghanistan and our nation’s work to stabilize the government there, defeat ISIS, and utilize its location to provide greater stability to the Middle East as a whole.
Throughout his time in Congress, Lankford has remained engaged in the military, foreign policy, and national security implications of the US military presence in Afghanistan. In December 2018, then a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Lankford visited Afghanistan along with other Intelligence Committee members to assess the US military and national security operations on the ground. Following his official visit to Afghanistan, Lankford penned an op-ed in the Washington Post detailing the trip and his takeaways. In December 2019, Lankford highlighted on the Senate floor the decision to begin dialing down the US military presence in Afghanistan.
Fall of 2001, seems like forever ago. Trey Young, the great OU point guard, now Atlanta Hawks phenom was just three years old. Darius Bazley was barely one year old in the fall of 2001. That same time period, now almost 20 years ago, there was a man named Osama Bin Laden. He was working with a small group of people in a country called Afghanistan that most Americans could not even find on the map at the time. And he was meeting privately with them to be able to organize an attack on Americans that we could have never imagined. Training individuals, sneaking individuals into the United States, training them further to be pilots, preparing them for an attack that happened September 11, 2001. Not a soul alive that was alive during that time period doesn’t remember where they were and what was happening on September 11, 2001. All of us, we were locked to our TVs watching an airplane fly into the side of a building and kill thousands of our friends and neighbors.
On September 14, the United States Congress passed use for military force for those individuals that carried out that attack three days after that attack. By October 7, the first troops had landed in Afghanistan. They were organizing an effort to be able to find Osama Bin Laden and to be able to eliminate the threat of them carrying out that again. The very clear mandate at the time was working with the government at that time in Afghanistan, the Taliban, who were a ruthless dictatorship. They spread their hatred through Afghanistan and were able to hide them in Afghanistan. And the Taliban who willingly allowed Osama Bin Laden and the terrorist group who they knew were a terrorist group remain there became a spark for us to go to the Taliban and say, either turn Osama Bin Laden over to the United States for trial and those who were with him in Al Qaeda or we will come get them. And the Taliban’s choice was to say come and get them. Which we did.
Over the years 775,000 American troops have deployed to Afghanistan at least once. 775,000. Forty different nations have participated with us in operation enduring freedom to be able to remove the threat of Al Qaeda attacking us. Our two-fold purpose was remove Osama Bin Laden and their leadership organization to be able to attack the United States or our allies, number two, remove the Taliban from leadership of Afghanistan because they allowed Al Qaeda to be able to function and to be able to operate in their country and they would willingly do it again so they could not be allowed to remain in Afghanistan as leaders. Those were our two agendas going into Afghanistan. And I am proud to say that the United States has won this war with Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has been decimated. We hunted down Osama Bin Laden until in 2011 we found him and took him out and his core leadership at his facility in Pakistan. We continue to be able to drive Al Qaeda into chaos and oblivion. We continue to be able to hunt down the Taliban and their leadership, pushing them out of any semblance of leadership in Afghanistan and isolating them in every area that we can. They have sanctions from all over the world against them. And their name has become synonymous with those who allow terrorism.
Since the time period we moved in and we’ve won this war, four presidential elections have happened in Afghanistan as they’ve seen the peaceful transition of power, as messy as it is in many parts of the world, including us, they’ve seen four elections happen there. Previously under the Taliban’s ruthless thumb women could not work or attend school. Now 36 percent of the country’s workforce is female, 40 percent of elementary students are female, 33 percent of university students are female. There’s been a tremendous transition in what’s happening in Afghanistan. Although it’s still a third world country and struggling in many areas, we’ve begun to see Afghanistan begin to get traction there. Their military training is partnered with US military leadership from generals down to the infantry level to be able to meet with Americans and to be able to have a professional fighting force there. Are there issues that remain in Afghanistan? Absolutely. Afghanistan has a long history of being a tribal region with tribal leaders in multiple areas and the difficulty of uniting a very large country. But after four presidential elections and through multiple areas of peaceful growth, it is time to be able to bring this war to an end.
To answer the question, why did we go to Afghanistan in the first place and has that been accomplished? The answer is: we went to remove the Taliban from the leadership there so they would not allow Al Qaeda to thrive. Al Qaeda is decimated, Osama Bin Laden is dead, and the Taliban have been removed from power. Now, is everything perfect in Afghanistan? Far from it. The goal was not peace and daisies when we left. The goal was to be able to accomplish what we chose to accomplish, to be able to establish a functioning government so that they would not have to go back to the Taliban, and then to be able to leave.
The president has been negotiating an agreement with the leadership of the Taliban and with the leadership of Afghanistan to determine if we can begin the process of peaceful transition out. That conversation has gone on for two years. Obviously the Afghan leadership likes our forces to be there. It’s a stabilizing force for their country. But we have no intention to be able to remain in Afghanistan forever. Our intention is to be able to accomplish what we need to accomplish and then to be table to withdraw.
Now I think it’s entirely likely that we would have a long-term agreement with Afghanistan to remain some troops in the region much like we do in Honduras right now. We’re not fighting a war in Honduras, so when there are disasters in that area, or drug trafficking in that area, we have a base of operation. I believe we should have a base of operation in Afghanistan. It would be wise to be able to do that. What is called ISIS-k, they are thriving in that region and it would be wise for us to keep our eyes on other terrorist organizations that may try to rise. But we have no intention to stay long term and forever or to be table to control or manage or to be the security forces for the afghan government. We’re the United States of America and we have issues that we want to be able to take care of at home and we want our sons and daughters to be able to live life with their sons and daughters.
In the last 48 hours, since this peace treaty, this organization, this reduction of hostilities, whatever you want to call it, since this kicked in we found out how fragile they are. The Taliban reached out against attacks, not against our forces, but against some afghan forces. We actually reached out yesterday and brought a defensive attack against the Taliban in that region. It’s the first violence we’ve had in 11 days. We fully expect there will be moments like that. And there is no expectation that everything is going to be perfect when we leave Afghanistan. Quite frankly, the United States does not operate in every location and expect it to be peace and harmony in every location in the world. That’s not our standard. Right now in Venezuela, that governments in great chaos right now, but we don’t have troops on the ground trying to manage that situation, we’re diplomatically working to bring peace to Venezuela and putting aggressive economic sanctions there to be able to help. We will continue to stay engaged in Afghanistan. We have friends there and people we worked with for a very long time side by side. We will stay engaged in Afghanistan, but it is not our intent to stay and remain forever.
Our sons and daughters need the ability to be able to come home and live their lives. Folks like Terry Hill. Terry Hill, from Kellyville, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the Army in 2003, right in the heat of the war with Afghanistan. He served as an engineer and then later became an officer and a pilot of a helicopter. He flew 750 combat missions in Afghanistan—750. And after 13 years of serving in the Army, and after some very hard landings, including one final hard landing for him, Terry came home. He’s back home in Oklahoma where he runs the Rapid Application Group [RAG]. It’s a 3D printing company. It’s a remarkable place. He started in his house, and it is a thriving company. And that 3D printing company does remarkable work for a lot of great customers. He hires a lot of veterans. Loves to be able to hire other veterans, in fact. And he knows the unique needs and issues there.
Every Friday Terry and a whole bunch of others across the area and all the folks there all will wear shirts, what they call RAG Friday. It’s to recognize and bring awareness to veteran suicide. He’s got way too many friends that he wishes he had back. Terry is one of those 775,000 people that served in Afghanistan from the United States. We’re glad to have Terry home. We’re proud of his company and what he’s doing and the leadership that they’ve got. We’re proud of his continued engagement in the veteran community to continue to be able to make a difference. We want all these folks to be able to come home and be our neighbors again and for us to hang out with them.
So in the days ahead, I look forward to a peaceful resolution. And after winning this war in Afghanistan, to be able to come home, to have continued diplomatic engagement with them, a small military footprint just to be able to help in the region when needed. But I’m grateful that we’re directing our nation and directing our military towards home. And I could not be more grateful for the folks like Terry and the 775,000 others that have done everything that their country has asked them to do to be able to push back on Al Qaeda and their ruthless attack on the United States and to make sure that that does not happen again. I’m proud of them for what they did. Our family lives in safety and freedom, and millions of Americans live in gratitude because of those 775,000 folks that went there to keep the war.