Now that Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice it is time to take a fresh look at the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. That's why I have introduced a bill to establish benchmarks to measure progress toward the 2014 goal of the Afghan government leading and conducting all military operations in Afghanistan.
This is the same approach I took several years ago during the war in Iraq. I was troubled because there was no objective measure of our progress there. Some groups said that we were winning, while others said that we were losing. In response, I helped draft bipartisan legislation that Congress approved and then-President Bush signed into law.
We established 18 benchmarks, or measurements, of economic, military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq. The benchmarks helped Congress and the American people gain a better understanding of our successes and challenges in Iraq. They helped play down a partisan debate over whether we were winning or losing.
We need to do the same in Afghanistan, especially now that Bin Laden is out of the picture. While the impact of his death on Al Qaeda remains to be seen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called his elimination a "game changer" in a speech on May 6, 2011.
As Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan moves to a point where American troops are replaced by Afghan security forces, we need to understand what is working, what isn't working, and what work remains to be done to make this transition successful. Americans deserve to know the status of the transition and how close we are to bringing our men and women home from Afghanistan.
My bill does that. It requires the Administration to set clear measures, or benchmarks, of the transition of security responsibilities to the Government of Afghanistan. Reports on the status of these benchmarks would be included in the semi-annual reports to Congress on Afghanistan which are already produced.
By establishing clear benchmarks for a strategic transition, we will have a better understanding of whether or not we can reduce troop levels in Afghanistan at a level faster than we had originally planned, or if other adjustments must be made.
To better understand the challenges we face, I'm planning to visit Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Independence Day break where I will meet with government leaders and officials and have a chance to talk with our troops, including Nebraskans who are deployed in Afghanistan.
The visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan follows meetings with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States and Defense Secretary-Nominee Leon Panetta. Panetta commented that key areas to be evaluated are the levels of violence, the stability of each district, the development and performance of the Afghan army and police operations, and the performance and responsibilities of the Afghan government.
This is a time of major transition in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya and throughout the Mideast and North Africa. Each country's circumstances are generally different from one another, but an overarching reality is they involve national security interests of the United States.