FACT SHEET | July 31, 2008

Democrats Have Consistently Kept Our Focus on Afghanistan and Al Qaeda

For years, Senate Democrats have advocated for a refocused commitment to the mission in Afghanistan - the central front in the fight against al Qaeda. While the White House and its Republican allies have continued to divert critical resources away from the campaign in Afghanistan in support of its endless war in Iraq, Senate Democrats have consistently worked to sustain our focus on winning the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists that attacked our country on 9/11.


Democrats Fight for Smart Change in Strategy; Republicans Sit on Sidelines

At nearly every turn, Democratic efforts to right our course in Afghanistan have been thwarted by the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans. At a direct cost to our mission in Afghanistan, Bush Republicans have poured nearly four times the funding and troops into a war of choice in Iraq, leaving the fight to secure Afghanistan and combat the resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda under-resourced and largely neglected. Since the start of the war on terrorism in October 2001, the Administration has provided $172 billion for efforts in Afghanistan and the global war on terror, while allocating more than $650 billion for operations in Iraq over the past five years. 

Even as the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, Bush Republicans have kept that campaign a second-tier priority. In December 2007 testimony, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, underscored the impact of the Bush focus on the war in Iraq over our efforts in Afghanistan. While noting that violence in Afghanistan had risen 27 percent from a year ago and the increased infiltration of foreign militants and al Qaeda terrorists into the country, Mullen stated that Afghanistan remained "an economy of force operation... In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must." (House Armed Services Committee Hearing, 12/11/07)


The results of this strategic failure have been devastating for U.S. national security: 

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Admiral McConnell warned that al Qaeda has regenerated its capacity to attack the United States.In his annual threat assessment to Congress, McConnell stated that "Al-Qa'ida is improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the homeland." (Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/5/08) 

The independent Afghanistan Study Group assessed that the success of our mission in Afghanistan is at risk.It concluded that "progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country." (Center for the Study of the Presidency, Afghanistan Study Group, 1/30/08)


Unable to Keep Ignoring the Facts on the Ground, Republicans Now Embracing Democratic Plan

It appears that the Bush Administration is starting to acknowledge the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan and the impact of years of its neglect on our mission. On April 4, President Bush suggested that additional troops might be sent into Afghanistan in 2009. On July 3, he reiterated that suggestion, following the deadliest month for U.S. troops since the start of the war in October 2001. Democrats welcome the Administration's belated calls to focus attention to the war in Afghanistan and call on the President and Republicans in Congress to stand by these words with sustained commitment to stabilize and secure the country. The national security costs of continuing with the status quo are too high.


The Democratic Record 

While Senate Democrats have been blocked in our attempts to overhaul the misguided Bush Republican approach, we have managed to achieve some significant steps toward advancing a smart strategy for success in Afghanistan and the war on global terrorist threats by providing funds to better support our troops; advancing measures to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government and eliminate terrorist safe havens; and promoting initiatives to combat the country's drug trade, endemic corruption, and poverty. 

Since 2002, Senate Democrats have been pushing for a greater focus on Afghanistan.As early as the spring of 2002, Senator Biden, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for strengthening our resolve in the fight in Afghanistan. Speaking on the Senate floor, he warned, "the very same conditions that enabled the Taliban to come to power in the mid-1990s are rapidly emerging again...Unless we take a serious look at our policy, I greatly fear we may be setting the stage for a tragic replay of recent Afghan history." Again, in the fall of 2003, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Senator Biden cautioned against taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan: "With our attention focused on Iraq, we run the risk of overlooking the alarming deterioration of security in Afghanistan. In both countries, the projection of American military power was decisive, but we have fallen short in demonstrating the staying power necessary to achieve stability." (Senator Biden, Statement on the Senate Floor, 5/17/05;New York Times, 10/1/03; National Security Network, 7/15/08) 

Since then, Senate Democrats have continued to pressure the Bush Administration to refocus our counter-terrorism efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan. This fall, Senate Democratic leaders sent a letter to President Bush, calling on the Administration to "immediately assess its policy toward Pakistan as well as its overall policy to counter terrorist groups such as al Qaeda." Earlier this spring, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus called on the President "to refocus the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy and our national security resources on [Afghanistan and Pakistan] and implement a comprehensive new strategy to keep America safe." (Senators Harry Reid, Joseph Biden, Richard Durbin, CharlesSchumer and Patty Murray, Letter to the President, 10/9/07; Senate Democrats, Letter to President Bush, 4/6/08) 

Since Democrats regained majority control of the Senate, we have been calling for a change of course in Iraq so that the United States can refocus our resources on the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan. Democrats have repeatedly advanced initiatives to bring to a close our open-ended commitment in Iraq so that we may turn to the real front in the war on terrorism. We have advanced a comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq so that we may more effectively stabilize and secure Iraq, while allowing us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight of hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks. The Bush Administration and Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked these measures. 

Democrats have advocated for a strategy to address the complex security and development challenges facing Afghanistan and the U.S. mission.Under Democratic leadership, the Senate advanced a directive in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 requiring the President to report to Congress on its comprehensive strategy for securing and stabilizing Afghanistan, including initiatives to develop the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces; promote reconstruction; devise a counter-narcotics strategy; combat corruption; and facilitate regional cooperation for stabilizing Afghanistan.(P.L. 110-181) 

Democrats have called for a comprehensive plan to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan.In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Senate Democrats established a requirement that the President report to Congress on his long-term strategy for engaging with Pakistan to eliminate safe havens for the Taliban, al Qaeda and other violent extremists in Pakistan and also to prevent the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other extremist forces from continuing their cross border incursions into Afghanistan. Further, in the final version of the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, Senate Democrats advanced a provision (initially sponsored by Senator Feingold as stand-alone legislation, S. 2634) that requires the president to report to Congress on "the global strategy of the United States to combat and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates." (P.L. 110-181; P.L. 110-252) 

Democrats have called for a new approach to relations with Pakistan, to promote long-term strategic engagement. Earlier this month, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Biden and Ranking Member Senator Lugar introduced bipartisan legislation, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008, to build a more effective strategic relationship with the Pakistani government and its people. Marking a dramatic shift away from current policy, the bill would triple funding for non-military aid to Pakistan for the next ten years, and also call for increased accountability on security assistance, to improve Pakistani counterterrorism capabilities, and to bolster efforts to combat the Taliban and al Qaeda. (S. 3263) 

Senate Democrats have provided increased funding for reconstruction initiatives key to stabilizing Afghanistan and countering the terrorist threat.Under Democratic leadership, the Senate has supported the President's budget and emergency funding requests for Afghanistan and also secured additional funds to strengthen key Department of Defense and State Department operations, reconstruction assistance, and counterterrorism programs. By way of example, in the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill and the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, Senate Democrats provided additional funding for security and diplomatic operations in Afghanistan, to support Provincial Reconstruction Teams, rural counter-narcotics initiatives, development, agriculture and humanitarian assistance, with a focus on provinces targeted by the Taliban. (P.L. 110-28; P.L. 110-161; P.L. 110-252) 

Democrats have pushed for an effective counter-narcotics strategy to combat record opium production in Afghanistan.The Bush Administration's counter-narcotics strategy, focused primarily on eradication, has proven a critical failure. Afghanistan has gone from producing 11 percent of the global supply of opium in 2001 to producing 93 percent in 2007. The dramatic growth of opium economy has played a central role in resurgence of the Taliban, the spread of corruption and significantly undermined the consolidation of the Afghan government. Not only has the Bush counter-narcotics approach proven ineffective, it is strongly opposed by the Afghan government and the Afghan people. In order to put an end to this failed strategy, Senate Democrats advanced a provision in the Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Actthat prohibits U.S. counter-narcotics funding from being used for aerial spraying on Afghanistan's poppy fields. (P.L. 110-161) 

Senate Democrats have led efforts to provide our troops on the battlefield in Afghanistan with the equipment, training, and resources they need to fulfill their mission. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008,the Senate provided an additional $4 billion for Service and Special Operations Command requirements for Mine Resistant Ambush Protection (MRAP) vehicles to protect our troops from the threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan (and Iraq). Democrats also have led efforts to provide increased support to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to support its program for countering the threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan. (P.L. 110-181; P.L. 110-252) 

Democrats have repeatedly advocated for more effective oversight of U.S. reconstruction funding and aid to Afghanistan. Under Democratic leadership, the Senate has advanced several initiatives to ensure that our aid efforts are not undermined by waste, fraud, and abuse and that these funds are effectively reaching the Afghan people. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, Democrats called for strengthened oversight of U.S. reconstruction initiatives by establishing a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Senate Democrats also advanced a provision to establish a Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan to study and offer recommendations for improving contracting for reconstruction, logistics support, and security functions. (P.L. 110-181) 




  • Kristin Devine (224-3232)


Link to this report

Click on field; right-click and copy; paste into your page

E-mail this Report

Your E-mail Message

Democratic Policy Committee
419 Hart Senate Office Building Wash. D.C. 20510 (202-224-3232)