Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) released the following statement in advance of this evening’s State of the Union Address:

 “While many challenges face our country, I expect the President to report tonight that the state of the union is strong.  For that, all the citizens of the United States owe the men and women of our Armed Forces an enormous debt of gratitude.  They provide the vital foundation for a country that is strong and secure.           

 “As the President discusses U.S. national security, I hope he will acknowledge the enormous stress and strain that has been placed on our service members and their families over the last several years.  Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are performing marvelously, but we cannot ignore the reality that the Army is strapped to meet its current commitments, soldiers and families are under stress, equipment is short, and training is being shortchanged.  If there were another major crisis at home or abroad, our Army would have a difficult time responding in a timely way and with the resources needed to do the job.  We cannot ignore the fact that our ongoing commitment of thousands of troops in Iraq has forced our nation to take on an extremely high level of strategic risk. 

 “We’ve been extremely fortunate that the strategy of General Petraeus, the rise of the Sunni Awakening Councils which have helped fight Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the ceasefire called by Moqtada al Sadr have all contributed to the decline of violence in Iraq.  Secretary Robert Gates has also brought much-needed common sense to the Department of Defense, as well as a much deeper understanding of America’s strategic situation.  The improved security situations and the long overdue acknowledgement of where our country is strategically should make it easier to do what our military’s state of readiness requires – redeploy more of our forces from Iraq.  Speeding up redeployment, while continuing to provide for the training and equipping of Iraqi forces, targeting Al Qaeda in Iraq, and protecting American reconstruction efforts will improve our strategic situation while also enabling the Iraqis to begin to take greater responsibility for their own security.  They must fully realize that the United States will not be in Iraq forever.

 “I will also be listening closely to what the President has to say concerning the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  I believe there is still hope for success in Afghanistan, but I fear we currently risk a strategic failure there.  The President’s recent decision to deploy 3,200 additional Marines to Afghanistan this spring is encouraging, but it falls far short of the long-term strategy and commitment that is necessary for lasting success in Afghanistan.  We must once again make Afghanistan the central focus in the war against terrorism – our national security and Afghanistan’s future are at stake.”