Tester calls for removal of U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end
Senator: ‘Let’s end this war for good’ by December 31 as planned
(U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today delivered a clear message to Congress and President Obama: America’s troops should leave Iraq by December 31 of this year as planned.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Tester praised the hundreds of thousands of American troops who “never faltered” and “provided security and Democracy to a nation that had never known it.”
“Iraq now has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy,” Tester said. “Iraq’s new leaders must solve their problems for their own people. Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger. It would cost American taxpayers more money. And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups.”
In a letter sent today to President Obama, Tester said U.S. troops “should not be in Iraq one minute more than is necessary.”
The Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government calls for withdrawing Operation New Dawn troops from Iraq by year’s end. Although there has been no official announcement, recent news reports suggest the possibility of keeping several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq past the December 31 deadline.
“We cannot afford moving the goal post,” Tester told his colleagues today. “Across Montana, and this nation, people are saying: Come home now.”
Tester said U.S. Marines should continue to guard America’s embassies, and that the U.S. should maintain a “strong diplomatic presence” in Iraq.
Tester noted that between his first visit to Iraq in 2007 and his second visit earlier this year, Iraq’s leaders were “finally moving forward after too many wasted years, too many wasted dollars and too many lives lost.”
Tester said the progress is largely due to the fact that “Iraqis were told in no uncertain terms that the United States was leaving,” which “galvanized Iraqi politicians to take control of their own country.”
“Since 2003, our nation has sent hundreds of thousands of other young men and women to fight in Iraq,” Tester said. “We have done so at an enormous cost: 4,474 Americans have given their lives. More than 32,000 have been wounded. And we can’t put a number on those who suffer from injuries unseen.”
Tester also noted that “the price tag of this war that was put on our children” is approaching $1 trillion.
Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, praised efforts to help Iraq veterans transition back to civilian life, such as the Montana National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program.
“I will do my best to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain,” Tester said. “Whether it’s a college education, health care or compensation for an injury suffered on the field of battle, we will honor our commitment to our heroes.”
Tester’s floor speech appears below.
Tester’s letter to President Obama is online HERE.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
September 20, 2011
PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.
Mr. President, during a trip to Baghdad this past January, I had an opportunity to meet with several members of the Montana National Guard's 163rd Combined Arms Battalion.
That day, I told them that I was proud of each and every one of them, from unit commander Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Hull and Sergeant Major John Wood on down the line.
Through courageous service to our country, they were making tremendous sacrifices on our behalf. And they were representing the very best of Montana.
This month, these folks have been coming back to Montana from their demobilizing station in Washington state. Today, I join their families, their friends and their neighbors in welcoming the last group of these citizen soldiers back to Montana. Job well done, soldiers.
And thank you.
For nearly a year, these 600 Montanans served in some of the harshest conditions imaginable – escorting numerous convoys across dangerous terrain and conducting other critical security missions throughout Iraq.
At one point over the last 12 months, this unit accounted for more than half of Montana’s best and brightest serving overseas.
They gave up the comforts of their families, their homes, and their communities to bring stability to a nation on the other side of the world. Through it all, they showed courage in difficult times. They remained strong. And they were always in our thoughts and prayers.
Now that they’re home, it is our duty to continue our support by providing the benefits, quality care and services they need as they transition back to their families, their jobs and their communities.
Many Iraq veterans make that transition with success, coming home to good jobs and welcoming communities.
But for others – making that transition is no easy task.
It’s no secret that there is a potential for higher rates of substance abuse. Higher divorce rates. Higher unemployment rates. The effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury can impact entire families.
Thankfully, veterans often look after each other. We should recognize the important role of America’s Veterans’ Service Organizations, and their willingness to help with that transition.
Montana was one of the first states in the nation to adopt the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program. It involves entire families of National Guard soldiers and airmen, preparing them for the changes that come before, during and after a deployment. The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program is a success. And I’m pleased that in the last Congress, my colleagues gave all states the resources to implement it.
Furthermore, I will do my best to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain. Whether it’s a college education, health care or compensation for an injury suffered on the field of battle, we will honor our commitment to our heroes.
We make this promise to the men and women of the 163rd – and to the Montanans who make up the many other units of the Montana National Guard that were deployed this year, and to the folks who are part of Montana’s RED HORSE squadron now in Afghanistan.
To our Reservists and to the folks serving in the active duty military today, we make the same commitment.
Even as we make this commitment, many folks in Montana are wondering what should happen next in Iraq.
Since 2003, our nation has sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to fight in Iraq. We have done so at an enormous cost: 4,474 Americans have given their lives. More than 32,000 have been wounded. And we can’t put a number on those who suffer from injuries unseen.
And let’s not forget, the price tag of this war that was put on our children is quickly approaching $1 trillion. And then there’s tens of billions of dollars in waste and fraud.
Mr. President, the war in Iraq started with political leaders who had their own agenda. They went there looking for weapons that never existed. But through it all, the professionalism of our military never faltered. They provided security and democracy to a nation that had never known it.
But for far too long, Iraqi politicians did nothing to secure their own future. I first went to Iraq in 2007 and returned there again this January. I was struck by how much had changed in those four years. Iraq was finally moving forward after too many wasted years, too many wasted dollars and too many lives lost.
There are many reasons for the change. The improved security from our military and the training provided by our troops played a big role. But American diplomats and military leaders told me that the biggest reason for progress in Iraq was this:
The Iraqis were told in no uncertain terms that the United States was leaving. Our military presence would end on December 31 of this year.
That, Mr. President, was what galvanized Iraqi politicians to take control of their own country.
Today, I am sending a letter to the President calling on him to stand by his commitment to pull all U.S. Operation New Dawn troops out of Iraq by the end of this year. We should bring the last of them home on schedule.
U.S. Marines will still guard our embassies as they always have. And we will still maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Iraq.
Despite this year’s deadline, I know there’s talk of possibly keeping a sizeable force of U.S. troops in Iraq into next year. If that’s the case, it’s not good enough.
We cannot afford moving the goal post. Across Montana, and this nation, people are saying: Come home now.
I know that sectarian violence in Iraq will continue. But we should not be asking American troops to referee a centuries-old civil war. That conflict is likely to continue into the distant future regardless of our presence.
Iraq now has the tools it needs to secure its people and its economy. Iraq’s new leaders must solve their problems for their own people.
Keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq would needlessly put them in more danger. It would cost American taxpayers more money.
And it would further distract us from our core national security objectives of protecting American citizens and further dismantling al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups.
That’s where our focus needs to be. And that’s why I’m saying: “Let’s end this war for good.”
Mr. President, I yield the floor.