Over Mother’s Day weekend, I once again had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan to meet with our service members and get a status check directly from Afghan and U.S. military officials. This marked the fourth straight year I visited Afghanistan around Mother’s Day, and the third time I have led the bi-partisan women’s Congressional Delegation.
While in Afghanistan, I always make it a priority to meet Alabamians deployed in service to our country. This year I visited with members of the 187th Fighter Wing of the Alabama Air National Guard, which is based out of Montgomery. As you may know, the 187th is famous for its “Red Tails” heritage and reputation as a well-trained and organized unit. I’ve also met many Army aviators who trained at Fort Rucker. I am pleased to report that our service members are doing great work and their spirits are high.
Our region has a proud presence in the war against terrorism, and it is an honor to be able to visit deployed Alabamians. I know I was able to speak for all of us here in Alabama in wishing them a successful mission and a safe return home to their families.
Our annual Mother’s Day trip allows us to spend time with military moms deployed overseas. This year we visited Marmal Air Base near Mazar e Sharif, where soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force are stationed. We hosted them for a Mother’s Day luncheon and brought them cards made by school children from Alabama. We listened to their stories and learned of the special challenges deployed military moms face. These women warriors are a special kind of brave who have a unique appreciation for what they are fighting for.
An important part of our Congressional Delegation to Afghanistan is to observe human rights gains made by the Afghan people, especially Afghan women. Under the Taliban regime, Afghan women were denied basic rights and protections, barred from pursuing education or employment. Thanks to the sacrifices of American, Afghan and coalition forces, the quality of life for women is improving rapidly. They are going to school, seeking careers, and even service in the government and military. New laws criminalize violence toward women and offer them unprecedented legal protections. The struggle is far from over, but these women are now participants in a society that once systematically subjugated them.
It is easy for war weary Americans to think that the status of the Afghan women is inconsequential to us here at home, but I would disagree. The status of Afghan women and girls has implications far beyond their borders. The status of women in Afghanistan directly affects our national security and the security of other countries in the region, like Israel.
After all, an Afghanistan that is more committed to human rights is less hospitable to terrorism.
Just this past week, President Obama announced that American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond his original withdrawal goal of this December – about 10,000 stationed there until 2015, with a smaller contingent remaining until 2016. Some special operations forces will continue to focus on counter-terrorism missions, while other forces will concentrate on critical Afghan military training.
No one wants our troops to stay in Afghanistan one moment longer than is necessary. I certainly want our deployed Alabamians to come home as soon as possible. However, at this critical juncture when the stability of Afghanistan hangs in the balance, our nation must not vacate its responsibility to ensure a lasting peace – not just for Afghanistan, but for ourselves and our allies.