While public opinion has turned firmly against the war in Afghanistan, falling to another all-time low in an Associated Press poll on Wednesday, Republicans on the House Armed Services committee blocked an attempt by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) to make war policy reflect political reality.
During debate over the Pentagon budget on Wednesday evening, Smith introduced a resolution expressing "the sense of Congress that the president should accelerate the transition of security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces and draw down United States military forces in Afghanistan as quickly as possible." While largely in line with popular opinion on the war, the measure was defeated 34-27, with only two of the committee's Republican members voting in favor of it.
Smith's resolution came in direct response to an earlier attempt by the committee chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), to back a harder line on withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced in February that American troops will end their combat role in Afghanistan in 2013. While the United States will continue to support Afghanistan financially and provide some soldiers to train and support local security forces, most have assumed that any residual presence would be relatively small.
But in his own "sense of Congress" resolution, McKeon inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act calling for 68,000 troops to remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, a relatively small drop from current levels. According the International Security Assistance Force, the coalition of foreign nations in Afghanistan, the United States has 90,000 soldiers deployed in the country as of April 12, 2012.
During Wednesday's debate, McKeon said that his own language was in line with what Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, had requested. At hearings in March, Allen called 68,000 troops a "good going-in number," but said that he "owe[d] the president some analysis." The Pentagon denied at the time that Allen was recommending any particular number of troops.
With the United States moving to a support role in 2013, Smith and other Democrats on the committee argued that a force of 68,000 would be too large and costly for the mission.
"While this region will continue to be unstable and difficult, and there are no certainties, we have reached the point where our best hope to promote stability in the region is to transition responsibly for governance and security to the Afghan people as soon as we responsibly can," said Smith in a statement on Wednesday. "After 10 years of war, the American people have paid a steep price for the conflict in Afghanistan, and it is time to bring this war to an end as soon as we responsibly can.”