Senator calls for a different troop surge

By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 10, 2009

Comedian Jon Stewart once joked that Sen. Carl M. Levin looks like a "kindly old shoemaker." But don't be thrown off by his easy demeanor. Levin (Mich.), the top Senate Democrat on military policy in Afghanistan, is not too keen on the president's plan to send 30,000 additional combat troops to fight in the war-torn country. And he's becoming more blunt about it by the day.

"The surge that is needed is a surge of Afghan troops," Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. "I believe that the most important thing that can happen in terms of Afghan security is for Afghan troops to be added at a much faster pace."

Levin voted against the war in Iraq and opposed President George W. Bush's decision to send a "surge" of troops there in 2007. He sees securing Afghanistan, however, as critical to securing America -- but is raising pointed questions about the administration's approach. He wants Afghans to take responsibility for themselves, to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops. "From my perspective, we shouldn't be sending additional combat forces at all. . . . I think we ought to be focusing on the training and the partnering with the Afghan forces," he said.

Reelected last year to his sixth term, Levin has long been a leading Democratic voice on national security. Since 1997, he has been either the chairman or a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. He was born and reared in Detroit and started his career as a civil rights lawyer.

Will he support the president's plan? "I will support the troops," he said. "Once the decision is made to send troops, I support them. "

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