WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President Obama to accelerate the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that the timetable the administration has laid out is not rapid enough as the nation grapples with its own economic problems at home.
The sense of the Senate amendment will be offered to the defense authorization bill, which is likely to come up after Thanksgiving recess.
The resolution says Obama should "expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations to the Government of Afghanistan," in addition to "expediting the drawdown of United States combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014."
It also orders the president to send Congress a timetable and completion date for the accelerated transition no later than 90 days after the resolution passes.
The amendment has bipartisan support; it's backed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
"We went to Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda training camps and bring to justice those responsible for the September 11th attacks. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, we have now accomplished those goals. It is time to end our presence in Afghanistan and refocus our attention on fighting terrorists wherever they may be," said Merkley. "At a time of high unemployment, a wave of foreclosures and growing debt, we need to be concentrating on nation building here at home."
In June, Obama announced that 33,000 U.S. troops will be leaving Afghanistan by the autumn of 2012. Five thousand troops were to be pulled out immediately, with another 5,000 leaving at the end of 2011.
The 33,000 troops withdrawn were part of the "surge" that Obama announced in his 2009 speech at West Point. That will leave approximately 68,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, which is still significantly higher than the amount that was in the country when Obama took office.
In July, Merkley, Udall and Paul called for the removal of all regular combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a timetable that is significantly shorter than Obama's.
In a New York Times op-ed, they pointed out that the United States is spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan while back home, the United States is struggling with "high unemployment and a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit and a debt that is over $14 trillion and growing."
Purpose: To express the sense of Congress regarding the expedited transition of responsibility for military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan.
SENSE OF CONGRESS ON TRANSITION OF MILITARY AND SECURITY OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN.
FINDINGS.—Congress makes the following findings:
(1) After al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States Government rightly sought to bring to justice those who attacked us, to eliminate al Qaeda’s safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan, and to remove the terrorist-allied Taliban government.
(2) Members of the Armed Forces, intelligence personnel, and diplomatic corps have skillfully achieved these objectives, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden.
(3) Operation Enduring Freedom is now the longest military operation in United States history.
(4) United States national security experts, including Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, have noted that al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished.
(5) Over the past ten years, the mission of the United States has evolved to include a prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan, including the creation of a strong central government, a national police force and army, and effective civic institutions.
(6) Such nation-building efforts in Afghanistan are undermined by corruption, high illiteracy, and a historic aversion to a strong central government in that country.
(7) Members of the Armed Forces have served in Afghanistan valiantly and with honor, and many have sacrificed their lives and health in service to their country.
(8) The United States is now spending nearly $10,000,000,000 per month in Afghanistan at a time when, in the United States, there is high unemployment, a flood of foreclosures, a record deficit, and a debt that is over $15,000,000,000,000 and growing.
(9) The continued concentration of United States and NATO military forces in one region, when terrorist forces are located in many parts of the world, is not an efficient use of resources.
(10) The battle against terrorism is best served by using United States troops and resources in a counterterrorism strategy against terrorist forces wherever they may locate and train.
(11) The United States Government will continue to support the development of Afghanistan with a strong diplomatic and counterterrorism presence in the region.
(12) President Barack Obama is to be commended for announcing in July 2011 that the United States would commence the redeployment of members of the United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan in 2011 and transition security control to the Government of Afghanistan.
(13) President Obama has established a goal of removing all United States combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014.
(b) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that—
(1) the President should expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan;
(2) the President should devise a plan based on inputs from military commanders, the diplomatic missions in the region, and appropriate members of the Cabinet, along with the consultation of Congress, for expediting the drawdown of United States combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014; and
(3) not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President should submit to Congress a plan with a timetable and completion date for the accelerated transition of all military and security operations in Afghanistan to the Government of Afghanistan.
This article was edited to reflect the updated text of the resolution.