As members of the U.S. Congress ask questions about the Obama
administration's strategy in Afghanistan, the House of Representatives has
turned back an effort to require a report from President Obama on his exit
strategy from Afghanistan. With the United States preparing to send billions of
additional dollars to Afghanistan and Pakistan in coming years, there is concern
across the political spectrum that the U.S. might become mired in a costly,
long-term military engagement in both places.
The effort to require the Obama administration to provide a description to
Congress of its plan to end U.S. involvement came in the form of an amendment
that a group of lawmakers -- all but one of them Democrats -- proposed to the
2010 fiscal year defense authorization bill.
The amendment stated that the Secretary of Defense should submit a report no
later than December 31st of this year, outlining the exit strategy for U.S.
military forces participating in Operation Enduring Freedom -- the international
effort begun under former President George Bush after the September 11, 2001
terrorist attacks on the United States.
Democrat Jim McGovern asserted that for the billions of dollars the U.S. is
putting into Afghanistan, Americans deserve to see a plan for eventual
withdrawal. "Every military mission has a beginning, a middle, a time of
transition and an end. But I have yet to see that vision articulated in any
document, speech or briefing. We're not asking for an immediate withdrawal.
We're surely not talking about cutting or running or retreating, just a plan. If
there is no military solution for Afghanistan, then please just tell us how we
will know when our military contribution to the political solution has ended,"
Comparing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War, Republican
Walter Jones asserted that the United States should avoid a multi-year
engagement in Afghanistan.
"Here we are, extending an eight-year commitment of our troops in
Afghanistan. What's going to happen three or four years from now, if we are in
the same situation? And then we are talking about a 12, 14 or 16 year
commitment. Look at what the Russians did. They went there and spent 10 years
and billions of dollars and thousands of Russians killed. Look at Alexander the
Great. He tried to conquer Afghanistan [and] he failed. Look at what the British
did and they couldn't make it," he said.
But the amendment was opposed by most Republicans, including Congressman
Howard McKeon, and the Democratic Chairman of the House Armed Services
Committee, Ike Skelton, who said it would send the people of Afghanistan the
"Focusing on an exit versus a strategy is irresponsible and fails to
recognize that our efforts in Afghanistan are vital to preventing future
terrorist attacks on the American people and our allies," McKeon said.
"This amendment sends exactly the wrong message, focusing on an exit
strategy, which may well reinforce a perception among the Afghans that we are
not committed to protecting them from the Taliban and al-Qaida," said
Representative Skelton noted that the authorization bill already contains
provisions requiring the president to state goals and develop measures of
effectiveness on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan.
The provisions include: a report every six months on progress in building a
legitimate and functional government; helping the Afghan government and people
spread the rule of law and reduce corruption; diminishing the ability of
anti-government elements to operate, establish safe havens and carry out attacks
in and from Afghanistan; and assisting in improving the county's legal
The debate occurred just a day after President Obama's special representative
for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said any exit strategy depends
on the ability of the United States and the allies to improve the capabilities
of the Afghan government and security forces. "If we don't do that Congressman,
we will never be able to carry out the exit strategy," he said.
The House rejected the McGovern amendment by a vote of 278 to 138. Another
amendment, accepted by voice vote, strengthened reporting requirements to
include an assessment of troop and equipment contributions by NATO and non-NATO
countries in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.