Mission Accomplished: Is It Finally Time To Leave Afghanistan?
This story has been updated.
WASHINGTON -- Okay, can we finally withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan?
That's the question many people are asking in reaction to Osama bin Laden's death. Shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, President Bush made clear that he wanted bin Laden, "dead or alive." With that mission accomplished -- 10 years later and under a different president -- some now say that the case for withdrawal is stronger, and President Obama has the political cover to push for a more robust pullout.
"The single biggest reason we went into Afghanistan was to get Osama bin Laden," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) at a Center for American Progress event Monday morning.
"If Osama bin Laden was still alive, that would have given some people an argument, 'Oh you can't get out of Afghanistan for reputational reasons.' ... Having killed Osama bin Laden deprives people who wanted to stay in Afghanistan for other reasons of the argument that we would be leaving in defeat," he added.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told The Huffington Post in an interview on Monday that once the euphoria of the U.S. success in Pakistan wears off, the country needs to start reconsidering its Afghanistan policy.
"We accomplished what we had to do in Afghanistan a long time ago," Nadler said. "We ought to stop wasting our troops and our money and our lives and get out. And this just shows that should al Qaeda establish a base there, we can go in and take it out as we just did in Pakistan. It just shows how superfluous everything we're doing in Afghanistan is. Pakistan is more dangerous, and look what we did."
Nadler added that while some intelligence and surveillance presence is needed to remain in Afghanistan, the "130,000 troops or so humping though the boondocks looking to pacify a village and then re-pacify it -- that didn't help."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also said the fact that U.S. intelligence were able to find bin Laden's location and the mission was carried out with just a small number of Navy SEALs shows that a large ground war isn't what's needed.
"I think it demonstrates that intelligence, both human and electronic, is paramount," Chaffetz told The Huffington Post. "We need the very best electronic and human intelligence, and when we have actionable intelligence, we need to strike. For me, that means you don't necessarily need 100,000 people on the ground in Afghanistan."
The call for withdrawal came up quickly on Sunday night, when 9/11 first responder and firefighter Kenny Sprecht went on CNN and said, "I mean, we're in a quagmire, for lack of a better term, in Afghanistan. I hope to God that tonight is one large step to maybe wrapping up operations in Afghanistan."
The fact that bin Laden was found "deep in the heart of Pakistan" -- and not Afghanistan -- was highlighted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who put out a statement criticizing U.S.-led combat operations in his country.
"Once again I call on NATO to say that the war on terror is not in Afghanistan," said Karzai in a statement. "Osama was not in Afghanistan: they found him in Pakistan. The war on terror is not in Afghan villages, the war on terror is not in the houses of innocent Afghans, the war on terror is not in the bombardment and killing of Afghan children and women, but in the safe havens of terrorism outside Afghanistan."
Although almost every federal lawmaker -- and many state and local ones as well -- rushed to put out a statement praising the death of bin Laden, very few put it in the larger context of the war in Afghanistan. Several Hill aides said their bosses were waiting to see how the news played out before taking a more forceful stance.
But that didn't mean that they weren't forced to talk about the topic.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), however, said that taking such a position would be dangerous..
"For anyone to try to mix up this success ... with our offensive against the Taliban this spring ... jeopardizes the long-term health of our entire national security," he told reporters on the Hill on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was also asked on Monday what bin Laden's killing meant for the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. He initially slipped and said the President had committed to beginning withdrawal of troops "from Pakistan" but quickly corrected himself to indicate the correct country that the U.S. is occupying, despite the centrality of Pakistan to the effort.
"He's [Obama] indicated he's going to stick with that," Reid said of the coming withdrawal. "I think that's appropriate."
Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol that the killing of bin Laden actually gives the United States "increased momentum in the war in Afghanistan."
"I've already heard a few calls that we quickly withdraw from the war in Afghanistan because Osama bin Laden is dead, and I wish we could say that," he said. "But if we did that we would repeat the mistake that we've made once before."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) was one of the few politicians who mentioned Afghanistan in her initial statement on bin Laden's death. She was the lone vote against authorizing the U.S. invasion in 2001 and has introduced legislation that would end combat operations in Afghanistan.
"While nothing can ever completely ease the pain that the families of 9/11 victims have endured, I am hopeful that the developments of the last 24 hours will bring some comfort to them," said Lee in her statement. "I am also hopeful these developments will help to accelerate an end to the war in Afghanistan and the implementation of a smart security strategy to strengthen U.S. relationships and address the root causes of terrorism around the world."
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) also sent out a statement arguing, "With Bin Laden dead and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan largely extinguished, it’s time we revisited the wisdom of continuing the war in Afghanistan."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) also alluded to a possible effect that the bin Laden news may have on the war effort, saying in a statement, "Tonight's announcement by President Obama that bin Laden has been killed is a tribute to the hard, dedicated work of our armed forces. I hope his death will both make the world safer and speed the day when our troops can return home."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be holding hearings this week on both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bin Laden's death and how it affects U.S. involvement in the region will no doubt be a hot topic.
"To be frank, this changes things a bit. It's a whole new ballgame," said one senior Senate aide who works for a Democratic member of the committee, adding that their boss's position on Afghanistan is likely to change as a result of the Osama slaying.
Mark Helmke, senior adviser for the committee's ranking member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), told The Huffington Post that the killing of bin Laden "puts more light on Lugar's questions about strategy and sustainability of Obama's efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Lugar has argued that the administration needs to more clearly outline what would qualify as success in Afghanistan and told reporters in January that the public was understandably becoming frustrated.
"For ordinary Americans looking at all this, they wonder, where does this stop?" he said.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean recently came out and said he no longer believes the war in Afghanistan is winnable. He reiterated his position to The Huffington Post on Monday, saying he stands by it, regardless of whether the United States killed bin Laden.
"I changed my position because Karzai is so backward and corrupt that I don't think he can survive after we leave, so why not leave now?" he said.
The progressive group Rethink Afghanistan quickly changed its website after news of bin Laden's death broke to read, "Osama Bin Laden Is Dead. Bring The Troops Home." It's circulating a petition for supporters to sign that will be delivered to the White House this week.
It took 3,519 days since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks for the United States to track down and kill bin Laden, the chief architect of the atrocity. According to a March 29, 2011 Congressional Research Service report, Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for "military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans' health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks."
Broken down individually, the government has spent $806 billion for Iraq, $444 billion for Afghanistan, $29 billion for enhanced security and $6 billion on "unallocated" items.
UPDATE -- 6:17 p.m.: Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who chairs the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, sent Obama an letter on Monday, saying that the death of bin Laden gives new momentum to ending the wars: "Now is the time to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while also creating a new foreign policy in which terrorism is but one issue among many that policymakers must address when it comes to keeping Americans safe. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, the Long War that began on 9/11 is finally over. It's time to bring our troops home, refocus our resources, reward the resiliency of the American people, and rededicate ourselves to rebuilding our nation."
UPDATE -- 8:42 p.m.: Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters that he expects a "robust reduction" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July. He said that he believed that it would be robust anyway, but that the robustness was "reinforced by events."
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told Patch.com in New Canaan, Conn., "It turns out that bin Laden was not hiding in an Afghani cave. He was living comfortably in a house in Pakistan. It just highlights the fact that nation building in Afghanistan is distracting from the very difficult anti-terrorism work we need to do in Pakistan.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) also released a statement Monday evening calling for a drawdown in Afghanistan and laying out a path forward.
The attacks orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden are what took us to Afghanistan in the first place; now, given his death, which occurred under President Obama’s mandate, we have an opportunity to drawdown our presence and ultimately transform the way in which we are waging this war. Bin Laden’s death reminds us that when tackling threats to U.S. security by actors who are increasingly agile, mobile and amorphous, a heavy military, air and navy footprint is not only ineffective in dealing with guerilla-like warfare but also financially unsustainable.
The way forward, then, is to recognize that policing, intelligence and negotiations -- all critically underfunded and underdeveloped in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- are what work best in undermining and dismantling threats of this nature. Additionally, we must recognize that in order to protect vulnerable populations from further instability, particularly the populations at the receiving end of Bin Laden’s recruitment strategies, we must make every effort to address their basic human needs -- a priority made pointedly clear as protests continue throughout the region over lack of basic services, corrupt political leadership and non-inclusive government. This is President Obama’s moment, one we must support as we work together to bring security to our country and theirs.
UPDATE -- 11:35 p.m.: The Los Angeles Times reports that House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) predicted that bin Laden's death would "accelerate our shift" to a new strategy: "If our object is to go after high-ranking Al Qaeda members, and those people are more present in Pakistan, then that may call for a different strategy."
"It becomes a clear alternative to 140,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and 100,000 contractors and billions and billions of unaccounted-for dollars," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) added about the Navy SEALs operation. "This looks like a much smarter approach."
Even House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), who has spoken out against a withdrawal timetable, said he was impressed by the limited bin Laden mission.
"You get a better result by using focused forces in a tactical way like this, and you're able to root out bad actors such as Osama bin Laden," Griffin said.
Zach Carter, Elise Foley, Ryan Grim, Michael McAuliff and Sam Stein contributed reporting.