5247156The war in Afghanistan is "fundamental to the defense of our people," President Obama said Monday, addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Phoenix, Ariz. -- but the fight will not be easy.
"The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight. And we won't defeat it overnight," the president said. "But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
The president said he is increasing financial support for both the military and veterans, but that waste will need to be rooted out of the system. He announced a new competition, challenging all 57 regional Veterans Affairs offices to come up with the most efficient ways to harness information technologies and breakthrough the bureaucracy.
"And then we're going to fund the best ideas and put them into action," the president said. "All with a simple mission—cut those backlogs, slash those wait times and deliver your benefits sooner."
The president's chief performance officer, chief technology officer and chief information officer will work with VA Secretary Shinseki to reform the system.Mr. Obama said his increased investments will also help the military fight all challenges, like "18th-century-style piracy and 21st century cyber threats."
"We need to keep our military the best trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in the world," he said. "That's why — even with our current economic challenges — my budget increases defense spending."
Mr. Obama said his strategy in Afghanistan encompasses diplomacy, good governance and development along with military force. Soldiers are implementing new tactics such as taking the fight to Taliban strongholds, helping Afghans improve their everyday lives and securing polling places for this week's election.
Richard Holbrooke, Mr. Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan, said Monday that the Taliban has failed in its attempt to derail the election.
The administration has increased the size of the Army and Marines Corps two years ahead of schedule, approved another temporary increase in the Army and has halted personnel reductions in the Navy and Air Force. Mr. Obama said this would enable him to put an end to stop-loss for those who have already served.
The president's budget includes the largest increase in the VA budget in more than 30 years, the president said, adding that over the next five years he will invest another $25 billion more.
"These are major investments, and these are difficult times," he said. "Fiscal discipline demands that we make hard decisions—sacrificing certain things we can't afford. But let me be clear. America's commitments to its veterans are not just lines in a budget. They are bonds that are sacred."
Yet the waste in military budgets, the president said, are "an affront to the American people and to our troops."
"We can't build the 21st century military we need — and maintain the fiscal responsibility that Americans demand — unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business," Mr. Obama said.