More than two-dozen senators on Wednesday sent a letter to President Obama urging him to hasten the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which is set to begin next month.
The senators argue that the U.S. has accomplished most of its objectives in the country, including killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and disrupting al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist networks.
“The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits,” the senators write.. “It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”
Twenty-four Democrats and two Republicans -- Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) -- have signed onto the letter, along with one independent who caucuses with Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
The senators point to CIA Director Leon Panetta’s remarks last summer that “maybe 50 to 100” al-Qaeda members are now in the country. They also argue that it would be “misguided” to keep significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan to carry out a long-term counter-insurgency and nation-building effort as some senators have called for.
“Instead of continuing to be embroiled in ancient local and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, we must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan’s development to the Afghan people and their government,” the letter reads.
“We should maintain our capacity to eliminate any new terrorist threats, continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces, and maintain our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. However, these objectives do not require the presence of over 100,000 American troops engaged in intensive combat operations.”
The letter comes as other lawmakers of both parties are making similar calls for a significant drawdown, as The Washington Post’s Jason Ukman reports. On Wednesday morning, freshman Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) wrote an op-ed in the Wilmington News Journal arguing that “our current counterinsurgency strategy does not appear to be producing an advantage that will ensure the progress we are making can be sustained after the planned complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2014.”
The renewed skepticism among lawmakers comes as Obama is set to receive recommendations from his military commanders on the number of troops to withdraw beginning next month. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, is expected to lay out options for Obama as soon as this week. Petraeus, who was seen at the Capitol Wednesday, is in Washington this week making the rounds ahead of his confirmation hearing next week to become CIA director.
The full letter from the 27 senators is below:
June 15, 2011
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to express our strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.
In 2001 the United States rightfully and successfully intervened in Afghanistan with the goals of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven, removing the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursuing those who planned the September 11 attacks on the United States. Those original goals have been largely met and today, as CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last June, “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less” al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.
In addition, over the past few years, U.S. forces have killed or captured dozens of significant al Qaeda leaders. Then, on May 2, 2011, American Special Forces acting under your direction located and killed Osama bin Laden. The death of the founder of al Qaeda is a major blow that further weakens the terrorist organization.
From the initial authorization of military force through your most recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaeda has always been the rationale for our military presence in Afghanistan. Given our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops.
There are those who argue that rather than reduce our forces, we should maintain a significant number of troops in order to support a lengthy counter-insurgency and nation building effort. This is misguided. We will never be able to secure and police every town and village in Afghanistan. Nor will we be able to build Afghanistan from the ground up into a Western-style democracy.
Endemic corruption in Afghanistan diverts resources intended to build roads, schools, and clinics, and some of these funds end up in the hands of the insurgents. Appointments of provincial and local officials on the basis of personal alliances and graft leads to deep mistrust by the Afghan population. While it is a laudable objective to attempt to build new civic institutions in Afghanistan, this goal does not justify the loss of American lives or the investment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
Instead of continuing to be embroiled in ancient local and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, we must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan’s development to the Afghan people and their government. We should maintain our capacity to eliminate any new terrorist threats, continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces, and maintain our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. However, these objectives do not require the presence of over 100,000 American troops engaged in intensive combat operations.
Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint. The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.
We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces.
We look forward to working with you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that makes our nation stronger and more secure.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)