US military presence in Afghanistan may have rare bipartisan consensus in Washington, but a bipartisan trio of lawmakers are dissatisfied with the open-ended occupation and are calling for a change in strategy.
New legislation introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) would require President Barack Obama to implement a flexible timetable to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and update Congress on its progress every three months.
“A large, open-ended presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive to our global fight against al Qaeda,” said Feingold, who assailed the idea of a “nation-building strategy in a country that isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even Al-Qaeda’s base” and called for a “timetable to end our massive presence in Afghanistan.”
Feingold, McGovern and Jones said the strategy should focus on counterinsurgency and fighting Al-Qaeda, arguing that a major long-term presence in the region costing hundreds of billions of dollars and stretching the military thin is hindering that goal.
“The American people deserve accountability Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in terms of how and when our troops will be returned to their families and in terms of how taxpayer dollars are being spent,” said McGovern.
The military occupation began in October 2001, just weeks after the attacks of September 11, to topple the Taliban government and hunt down Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Eight and a half years later, with tens of thousands of lives lost, the Taliban government has been replaced with one friendlier to the West but bin Laden remains nowhere to be found. However, the fear of a Taliban resurgence has propelled military leaders to keep troops in the region.
President Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush, has been a consistent and vigorous supporter of the war, casting it as necessary in the fight against Islamic extremism. He has labeled it “not only a war worth fighting” but one that is “fundamental to the defense of our people.”
“Our defense review is taking a top-to-bottom look at our priorities and posture, questioning conventional wisdom, rethinking old dogmas and challenging the status quo,” Obama said last year before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We’re asking hard questions about the forces we need and the weapons we buy.”
In a sign that the strategy may be going awry, President Hamid Karzai this month accused the United States of gaming Afghan elections and threatened to join the Taliban insurgency.
The three lawmakers referenced this in a letter to Obama this week, noting that continued military presence “makes us dependent upon an unreliable partner in the Afghan government, as recent events highlight.”
Violence in the region has seen a considerable uptick this year, and in February the death toll for US troops crossed 1,000.
Feingold has been a vocal opponent of the Afghanistan war for years, and last December warned that Obama’s strategy to deploy an additional 30,000 troops to the country would backfire.
“I do not support the president’s decision to send additional troops to fight a war in Afghanistan that is no longer in our national security interest,” Feingold said.