I recently concluded an official trip to the Middle East, where I visited Israel and Afghanistan along with four of my Senate colleagues. The purpose of the trip was to meet with military and political leaders to discuss the many challenges facing our allies and troops in the region.
I recently concluded an official trip to the Middle East, where I visited Israel and Afghanistan along with four of my Senate colleagues. The purpose of the trip was to meet with military and political leaders to discuss the many challenges facing our allies and troops in the region. We began the visit in Israel by meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem. There, we discussed the importance of maintaining the historic ties between our two nations and focused on the array of threats Israel faces within the broader Middle East. The Prime Minister also expressed his growing concern regarding Iran, which is aggressively working to expand its nuclear capabilities. He encouraged the United States to remain active in working with the international community to prevent the hostile regime in Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It was clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a strong leader who loves his country, and I appreciated the opportunity to meet him and reaffirm our nation’s support for Israel. Later that day, we met with representatives from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. The Mossad works closely with its American counterparts to combat terror around the world, so it was very helpful to hear their perspective on growing global threats. Next, we traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, where we met with General John Allen, the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force. We were briefed on the progress made since the surge of troops in 2009. Despite improvements in conditions, the nation is still volatile and the gains we have made are reversible. During our time in Afghanistan, my colleagues and I participated in several intelligence briefings. We also traveled to Camp Eggers, a military base in Kabul where we met with top military leaders to discuss NATO’s progress in training Afghan security forces. We visited Camp Integrity, Bagram Air Force Base, and traveled to Forward Operation Base Shank. There, we met with a number of troops and I had the pleasure of having dinner with Nebraska service-members. Meeting with Nebraskans overseas was certainly a highlight of the trip. It was a privilege to shake their hands and thank them – on behalf of all Nebraskans – for their service. I hope Nebraskans will keep them – and all of our troops – in their prayers. Finally, we met with several top military commanders to discuss transition and reduction of U.S. troop levels. The President has yet to determine his precise strategy for transitioning the U.S. mission away from combat operations to a reduced role that focuses on assisting Afghan security forces and conducting limited counter-terrorism operations. Based on my visit, I believe a carefully managed troop drawdown is workable over the next few years and I look forward to reviewing the President’s plan. While I share the desire of many Nebraskans to bring American soldiers home quickly, many brave Americans have laid down their lives and the United States has committed vast resources to build a free and stable Afghanistan. Moreover, it’s important to remember why the United States invaded Afghanistan in the first place. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to Operation Enduring Freedom, a military operation launched to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban government that provided them with safe harbor. Over a decade later, ensuring that Afghanistan cannot be used again as a sanctuary from which to attack the United States remains a critical national security priority. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it was essential for me to see first-hand the status of our mission in Afghanistan. And as I mentioned, it was also important for me to meet with our deployed men and women in uniform to thank them for their selfless service. I left Afghanistan impressed with the accomplishments of our soldiers and more hopeful for a positive outcome for our mission in the region. Please keep our troops in your prayers, and I’ll visit with you again next week.