WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is calling for a change of strategy in Afghanistan, arguing the current course is unsustainable and the military needs to refocus its efforts on a counterterrorism approach.
In an op-ed running on Wednesday in the Wilmington, Del., News Journal, Coons says the July drawdown should be "the beginning of a new, more targeted counter-terrorism strategy that more wisely focuses our military and diplomatic resources on defending America's security interests."
"This was not an easy place for me to come to," said Coons in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I support our troops, I support our commander in chief -- it is not easy to disagree with their current strategy. There are lots of very dedicated, very determined, very capable men and women serving us in Afghanistan who really want the opportunity to prove that this current strategy can work. I just hear broad skepticism at home that another few years at 100,000 troops and more than $100 billion a year is going to change the outcome."
Coons visited Afghanistan in February, and came away convinced that more of the U.S. focus needed to be directed toward Pakistan.
Like a growing number of his colleagues, Coons is arguing for a shift away from a counterinsurgency campaign toward a counterterrorism approach. He pointed to the killing of Osama bin Laden -- accomplished by a team of a couple dozen Navy SEALs -- as one example of how a large boots-on-the-ground presence is not necessarily the most successful strategy.
"Osama bin Laden ought to be a moment that makes us reevaluate our strategy," he said. "I'm trying to be very careful to not be misunderstood to be advocating for 'the job is done, the threat is done, we can withdraw all American forces.' That is not the case. I don't believe that. There are still very dangerous people affiliated with very active groups in Pakistan and to some extent, still in Afghanistan."
"I just think we need to make sure that our investment in Afghanistan is scaled appropriately toward the threat," Coons explained.
The Delaware Democrat made clear that he supports a substantial withdrawal of troops in July. But Coons thinks the current debate is too focused on the size of the withdrawal and not enough on what the strategy will look like afterward.
"How many troops will be there in 2015 or 2016? How much will we be spending in 2012 or 2013?," he asked. "Those will be driven by strategy."
Coons' state contains Dover Air Force Base, where all the bodies of fallen American servicemembers arrive when coming back to the United States.
For months, the House has had a group of both Republicans and Democrats unhappy with the direction of the war in Afghanistan and vocally calling for a change.
But cracks have only recently begun to show in the Senate -- perhaps most visibly on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In addition to Coons, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) all recently raised doubts about the strategy in the war.
"We've got this huge nation-building effort under way [and] I think if our citizens saw our footprint in Afghanistan, saw what was happening there from the stand point of all the things we're investing in this in this country, the distortions in its culture -- we've got to change our footprint," Corker said. "This is not a model that we can replicate in other Middle Eastern countries."
UPDATE: 11:25 a.m. -- Twenty-seven senators have signed on to a bipartisan letter calling for the President to initiate a "sizable and substantial reduction" of U.S. forces beginning in July. The letter was led by Sens. MIke Lee (R-Utah), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and garnered the support of two Republicans -- Lee and Rand Paul (Ky.).