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," he said.
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 wrong message.
"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 Skelton.
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 economy.
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.