WASHINGTON, DC – Today Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), issued the following statement concerning President Obama’s address to the nation on the military situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
“I appreciate the President’s thoughtful outline of what he believes should be the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The U.S. now has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, including four thousand currently there from Fort Lewis, Washington.
“While the President’s proposal to send another 30,000 troops comes with a date 18 months from now that specifies the beginning of withdrawal. But there are no guarantees, and it concerns me that our troops could remain long after 2011. There is much work that needs to be done to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan so the region will no longer serve as a stronghold for extremists. But the question is how much of this work can be done by our military versus other political and diplomatic efforts and the Afghans and Pakistanis themselves.
“I believe more needs to be done to stabilize economic development and opportunities throughout Afghanistan and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. My focus in the Senate has been working toward swift passage of the Afghan-Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones legislation. The bill would give the President authority to create duty-free export zones in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan for exports to the United States. The aim is to stimulate economic development and create jobs as alternatives to terrorism and narco-trafficking. Today, extremists are able to recruit insurgent fighters for a few dollars a day. This situation cannot continue.
“I will be looking for more details and specific benchmarks from the President on his plan so that we can measure when success will be attained clearing the way for withdrawal of U.S. troops. During the Supplemental Defense Appropriations process, I will make sure that funds are conditioned on meeting certain benchmarks, particularly benchmarks on political and economic development.”