WASHINGTON -- Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) urged President Barack Obama in a letter Wednesday to end the war in Afghanistan and provide a minimal number of U.S. troops beyond 2014.
"Mr. President, our valiant men and women have fought bravely in Afghanistan for over a decade. But after twelve years of conflict, it is time to bring our troops home," they wrote in the letter, provided Thursday to The Huffington Post. "We urge you to heed the wishes of the majority of Americans by bringing our sons and daughters home safely and swiftly, and, in doing so, ending America’s longest war."
The union of the three senators illustrates that calls to end the over-12-year Afghanistan War transcend traditional partisan lines. Their letter also highlights the reality that the end-date of 2014 for the U.S. combat mission does not necessarily the end for U.S. involvement.
"After 2014, we urge you to keep only as many troops necessary to pursue a limited counter-terrorism mission and assist in training the Afghan Nation Security Forces," the senators wrote.
Their call for limiting the number of troops after 2014 challenges some generals, such as James N. Mattis of the Central Command, who have called for 20,000 troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014. U.S. and NATO officials are discussing a plan of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, with American and allied contributions. The White House has floated a so-called zero option of no troops beyond 2014; however, the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration had not asked senior military officials to assess the scenario.
That remaining force, the size of which remains under discussion, is still not very well-known by the public, wrote Anatol Lieven, a fellow at the New America Foundation, in the New York Review of Books. "A very strange idea has spread in the Western media concerning Afghanistan: that the U.S. military is withdrawing from the country next year, and that the present Afghan war has therefore entered into an 'endgame.' The use of these phrases reflects a degree of unconscious wishful thinking that amounts to collective self-delusion."
The U.S. signed a treaty with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in May 2012 that allows for U.S. bases -- though not permanent installments -- beyond 2014. "Afghanistan shall provide U.S. forces continued access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014, and beyond as may be agreed in the Bilateral Security Agreement," reads the agreement, signed by both countries.
The U.S. has about 66,000 troops still in Afghanistan, with 34,000 set to leave by early 2014.
The senators pressed Obama to stay true to the words of his inaugural address.
"You stated: 'We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,'" they wrote. "The next few months present a genuine opportunity to fulfill this goal in a manner consistent with core U.S. national security interests."
Read the full letter:
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our support for your decision to begin a swift and orderly end to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
In your recent State of the Union address, you announced that 34,000 of our service members will come home in the next year. We applaud you for this decision. Your announcement is consistent with Section 1226 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which endorses a transition of the security lead to the Government of Afghanistan by mid-summer 2013, while drawing down U.S. troops consistent with this goal. It also states that the United States should end all regular combat operations by not later than December 31, 2014, and take all possible steps to end such operations at the earliest date consistent with a safe and orderly draw down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In the next few months, you and senior military leaders will make additional crucial decisions about the final phase of the conflict. These decisions include the pace of the drawdown during 2014, as well as the number of troops that will remain after December 31, 2014.
We encourage you to consider a plan that redeploys the majority of U.S. troops as quickly as possible while fully protecting the safety of the remaining troops during this transition. After 2014, we urge you to keep only as many troops necessary to pursue a limited counter-terrorism mission and assist in training the Afghan Nation Security Forces.
Mr. President, our valiant men and women have fought bravely in Afghanistan for over a decade. But after twelve years of conflict, it is time to bring our troops home.
In your inaugural address, you stated: “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” The next few months present a genuine opportunity to fulfill this goal in a manner consistent with core U.S. national security interests.
We urge you to heed the wishes of the majority of Americans by bringing our sons and daughters home safely and swiftly, and, in doing so, ending America’s longest war.