Freshman Senator from Nebraska, Deb Fisher (R), took a trip to Afghanistan with a Senate delegation last weekend. As a new member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, she wanted a personal evaluation of the proposals the president has given for withdrawal. In the wake of last week's visit from Afghan President Karzai, and lingering issues with President Obama, a first hand look for this new DC arrival was useful in gaining perspective for the situation on the ground in Kabul and Kandahar.
President Obama has been promoting a plan to speed up withdrawal, but Karzai wants to exercise caution. This is also impacted by his administration's inability to get the Taliban to a negotiation table, to establish their role in the new Afghan political world. It is a key element to Afghan national security to settle the Taliban role moving forward, since they were the conduit that brought Bin-Laden and Al Qaeda to their country.
"The commanders were positive in their message, and they do see the Afghan troops stepping up and they are able to, as I said, perform their duties, but that might be a little fast." Fisher said.
The Obama Administration is also suggesting that the overall goal is no military presence, something Fisher is uncertain about.
"If we get to zero, then in effect we're saying we're out of the county," she said. "I think that would be difficult to do, especially with the international forces that are there, that the United States would just completely pull out." She respects the need for U.S. commanders to be able to be flexible as they plan to move forward.
This will surely lead to interesting conversations with Defense Secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel, a former Nebraska Republican Senator who endorsed her Democratic opponent, Bob Kerrey in the last election.
Additionally, shrinking American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq may be contributing to growing terrorist activities in other countries, like Algeria and Mali. The George Bush strategy was to engage terrorist-supported combatants in these two countries; but as we remove our troops there is an escalation of Al-Qaeda activity in the overthrow of the Egyptian government, the overthrow of the Libyan government and the Benghazi incident in September, Syrian civil unrest and the attack of citizens, and now the hostage-taking in Algeria.
As President Obama prepares for his second term, and inaugural ceremonies this weekend, he may re-state his claim that Bin-Laden is dead, and Al-Qaeda is "on the run". The problem is, they are running all over the Middle East, expanding into Northern Africa, and presenting more security issues than ever as our government continues to follow the plan to continue removing troops on a timeline, rather than in a comprehensive strategy to keep our citizens safe, and our national interests in sight. Deb Fisher has some large items on her plate, and she hasn't finished her first month on the job.