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      U.S. Senate Urges an “Expedited” Afghanistan Withdrawal

      The Senate, on Wednesday, called for an “expedited drawdown” of US troops from Afghanistan in an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and 20 co-sponsors, was adopted by voice vote, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) shouted “no.”

      On its face, the amendment seems innocuous, without projecting either the number of troops to be withdrawn or the timeline. But in the context of recent Congressional action on Iraq and Afghanistan, it provides a significant impetus for the Obama administration to move up its current 2014 timetable for ending US combat operations. It also sends a major message to Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, who has been promoting a ten-year US commitment, and to the NATO/ISAF conference meeting Monday, November 5, in Bonn.

      Some in the Pentagon and CIA, whose interests are often represented by Sen. McCain, will not be happy with talk of speeding up withdrawal from a war which they believe is far from won.

      Until this vote, the Senate has been more conservative than the House in advancing peace initiatives. The Senate stance should enable the House to adopt the same amendment in conference committee, as well as measures being prepared by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).  If Democrats present a united front, that in turn will provide important political cover for President Obama to accelerate a transition. The direct cost to taxpayers of Afghanistan so far is $480.1 billion.

      Momentum towards an Afghan withdrawal will help Obama campaign in 2012 on phasing out two wars, and will eliminate the present rationale for the escalation of drone attacks, special operations, and cross-border attacks by US forces into Pakistan.

      The impetus to accelerated withdrawal underscores the urgent need for political and diplomatic initiatives towards a power-sharing compromise.

      The text of Sen. Merkley's resolution is as follows:

      Resolution on Afghanistan offered on November 17 to National Defense Authorization Act


      (a) 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 na1tion-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.

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