Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) introduced legislation Wednesday that calls on the White House to develop a “flexible timetable” to draw down US troops from Afghanistan.
The lawmakers said taxpayers are bearing a heavy burden by being asked to fund an open-ended war and US soldiers who have faced multiple deployments, which is taking a toll on their mental state.
The bipartisan legislation would require President Barack Obama to provide a plan and timetable for drawing down US forces in Afghanistan and identify any variables that could require changes to that timetable. The legislation doesn’t set a specific date for withdrawal of troops.
Also, proponents of the legislation said that it would ensure that all US activity in Afghanistan be overseen by an Inspector General, and they said the legislation increases oversight by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over work done by private contractors with records of waste, fraud and abuse so that US taxpayer dollars can be safeguarded.
Back in December during a speech at the West Point Military Academy, President Obama announced plans to send about 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan in addition to the thousands already on the ground. He also called for removing US forces from Afghanistan in summer 2011.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress after Obama’s speech that the surge force of 30,000 going to Afghanistan would grow to at least 33,000 when support troops are included. He also said Obama had given him the “flexibility” to boost the surge force, in the same way Obama made flexible the “target date” of July 2011 to start withdrawing the surge forces.
Senator Feingold said that at the listening sessions he has held throughout Wisconsin over the last several months, people across the political spectrum have asked why the country continues to have a massive military presence in Afghanistan.
“A large, open-ended presence in Afghanistan is counterproductive to our global fight against al-Qaeda,” Feingold said. “Rather than pour resources into a nation-building strategy in a country that isn’t even al-Qaeda’s base, we should develop a timetable to end our massive presence in Afghanistan so [that] we are better able to go after al-Qaeda’s global network. We need to be as agile as al-Qaeda, and we can’t do that if we are bogged down in Afghanistan.”
Representative McGovern said it is time to reexamine strategies for the war in Afghanistan. “After eight long years, hundreds of billions of dollars and – most importantly – thousands of our brave soldiers killed or wounded, it is past time to reexamine this strategy,” he said. “Instead of nation-building in Afghanistan, we should be doing some more nation-building here at home. The American people deserve accountability – in terms of how and when our troops will be returned to their families and in terms of how taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
Representative Jones said the war on terror needs to be thought of in a different way. “There are other strategies that could be used, as I have discussed with several former generals,” he said. “As recent as [Tuesday] I visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda Naval Academy. Being there and seeing the true cost of war only strengthens my belief that it is time to change our strategy and reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan. It is time to put an end to the tremendous stress we are placing on our military and their families.”
Feingold, McGovern and Jones recently wrote to President Obama, outlining their concerns that the military strategy for Afghanistan is “not in our best national security interest and makes us dependent upon an unreliable partner in the Afghan government.”
In the letter urging the president to set forth a timetable, the legislators wrote, “The attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day serves as a reminder that we have not been adequately prioritizing the need to track down al-Qaeda, especially in emerging safe havens such as Yemen. Rather than investing a disproportionate amount of our resources in Afghanistan, we need to shift resources to pursuing al-Qaeda’s global network.”
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