Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member, held a hearing on the conflict in Afghanistan with General John Campbell, Commander of U.S. Forces—Afghanistan and Resolute Support Mission. I greatly appreciate General Campbell’s 36 years of service to our nation. Like the many thousands of men and women who have sacrificed bravely in Afghanistan over the past 15 years, bringing justice to those who planned and perpetrated the September 11 attacks, General Campbell is an American hero.
Like most Americans, I often think about those heroes who never made it back from their tour of duty in Afghanistan, and the friends and families they left behind. And I think about the service members who will carry the physical and mental scars of battle with them for the rest of their lives. Reflecting on the sacrifices of this generation of warriors not only makes me extremely thankful, but also reminds us that we have an obligation, as a country, to look closely at our involvement in Afghanistan and have an open, honest dialogue about the future of our nation’s longest conflict.
In testimony before Senate and House committees, General Campbell stated that it would be at least 2024 – 8 years from today – before the Afghan government will have the institutional stability and economic resources to support its population. This means that the United States will be invested economically, and most likely in some security capacity as well, in supporting the Afghan government up until that time. To put that in perspective, by 2024 there will be active-duty U.S. Army officers who were born after America’s involvement in Afghanistan first started.
Afghanistan is a country smaller than the state of Texas, with fewer people than California. It has very few natural resources and is a land-locked territory about as far away geographically as you can get from the United States. There’s a strong argument to be made that the threats emanating from Afghanistan, while dangerous, are not existential to the United States in the way that a nuclear armed North Korea or a sophisticated cyber-threat could be. Yet we have spent an immense amount of American blood and treasure – hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 15 years. We have a moral, economic, and security obligation to ask ourselves what another decade of U.S. involvement will entail, and to weigh the expected costs and benefits.  
The truth is, the American people have already begun to have this important conversation – they're just waiting for their elected representatives in Congress to catch up. I have heard from many Utahns, and Americans around the country,  who are concerned about what it will mean for them, their families, and their communities to line up a new generation of American service-members to be involved in Afghanistan. For centuries, Afghanistan has been either dominated by oppressive foreign powers or in the midst of violent civil upheaval and sectarian strife – we need to be honest with ourselves and with the American people about what it will take, assuming it is even possible, to build a functional, self-sustaining, representative government in such a place.
And we need to have an honest conversation here in Washington and across the country about what it takes to keep us safe from another 9/11-type attack. Military officials and elected representatives have an obligation to level with the  American people about what can be accomplished in a country like Afghanistan to protect our freedoms. I hope that this Congress and the presidential candidates will take up this task with the seriousness it deserves.