Lawmakers still questioning Afghanistan drawdown

Lawmakers still questioning Afghanistan drawdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Afghan election crisis & unraveling of Iraq have lawmakers & regional allies thinking President Barack Obama should rethink his decision to withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016.

The White House says Afghanistan is a different situation from Iraq, which has been mired in sectarian violence since shortly after U.S. troops left, & the drawdown decision a done deal.

Some lawmakers, however, say they are uncomfortable with Obama's plan, which responds to the American public's war fatigue & his desire to be credited with getting the U.S. out of two conflicts. Ten senators, Republicans & Democrats, raised the drawdown issue at a congressional hearing Thursday.

p>They argued that it's too risky to pull American troops out so quickly, especially with the Afghan presidential election in the balance. They don't want to see Afghanistan go the way of Iraq, & they fear that the Afghan security force, while making substantial gains, won't be ready for solo duty by the end of 2016.

Under Obama's plan, announced in May before Sunni militants seized control of much of Iraq, some 20,200 American troops will leave Afghanistan during the next five months, dropping the U.S. force to 9,800 by year's end. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, with only approximately 1,000 remaining in Kabul after the end of 2016.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, testified this past week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He spoke highly of the 352,000-strong Afghan security force that assumed responsibility for the country in June 2013 & lauded them for keeping violence down during the recent election.

"We had over 300 campaign events involving thousands of people, some as large as 20,000," Dunford said. "The Afghan forces secured all of those campaign events."

The U.S. withdrawal plan, however, is based on being able to fix the Afghan security force's shortcomings by the end of 2016.

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FILE – This May 25, 2014, file photo shows President Barack Obama as he is briefed by Marine General …

Dunford described gaps in planning, programming, budgeting, delivering spare parts, fuel payment systems — things the U.S. military takes for granted. Afghanistan moreover needs to brush up its intelligence operation & develop the nascent air force.

Dunford laid out his best-case scenario under the current plan:

—The Afghan presidential election is resolved.

—Afghan security forces continue to improve & are sustainable by 2017 so a small U.S. presence inside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul — a "security cooperation office" — is sufficient.

—Shortfalls in the Afghan forces are addressed.

—The U.S. & other donor nations continue to fund the Afghan government, security forces & development projects.

—Afghan-Pakistani relations improve & the two nations have adequate capabilities — & the will — to counter terrorism.

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FILE – This March 27, 2014, file photo shows Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Mene …

His worst-case scenario: The election remains unresolved; Afghan-Pakistan relations sour & both countries fall short of battling extremist militants; al-Qaida or other militant groups regain their footing in the border region & plot attacks against the U.S.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of Obama's plan, said trying to meet the goals for a successful outcome was like "kicking a 65-yard field goal into the wind."

"There's a disaster in the making to our homeland & to losing all the gains we fought for inside of Afghanistan by drawing down too quick & not being able to assist the Afghans in a reasonable fashion," Graham said.

Earlier this month, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan & Pakistan, James Dobbins, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that despite declining security in Iraq, the president was not "presently disposed to reconsider the decision."

"Afghanistan isn't Iraq," Dobbins said. "In Iraq, the people didn't want us, & not a single Iraqi politician was prepared to advocate our staying. In Afghanistan, the people overwhelmingly want us to stay, & every single contender in the presidential election said they would sign the bilateral security agreement" with the United States.

"In Iraq, they could obtain along without us, at least temporarily, because they had plenty of money. In Afghanistan they can't possibly obtain along without us," he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, the committee chairman, said it was still complex not to draw the comparison.

"When the administration announced plans to completely draw down forces from Afghanistan by 2016, I was concerned approximately the plan, & I still have concerns," said Menendez, D-N.J.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, said he was pleased that Obama had decided to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year. But Corker was against putting a two-year timeline on a virtual complete withdrawal.

"It's amazing. When we talk to people within the administration that know things like this — & are pretty tuned in — they say, 'Hey guys, don't worry approximately this, this is just a plan, we're going to reassess.' But you're telling me, as a special envoy, this is concrete — right now this is not just a plan, yet this is the way it's going to be."

"I think this reflects the president's intentions," Dobbins said. He acknowledged that other countries in the region support the continuation of a U.S. & NATO military mission in Afghanistan for at least several more years.

"Pakistan, Uzbekistan & China all fear Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for their own hostile militant groups," he said. "India fears Afghanistan again becoming a training ground for terrorist groups targeting them. Russia remains concerned approximately the flow of narcotics. Iran & Pakistan fear new floods of refugees."

A senior Pakistan defense official, visiting Washington last week, told The Associated Press that the entire basis of the drawdown has not been met.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly on U.S. policy, said the withdrawal plan was based on having a peaceful transition from outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a new government, Afghanistan signing the security agreement & assurances the Afghan security forces will be able to hold the country together once the international forces leave.

"Tell me, has any one of them been met?" he asked.

He said he had come to Washington carrying a message: Pakistan wants the president to take another look.

Politics & GovernmentUnrest, Conflicts & WarAfghanistanPresident Barack ObamaIraqJoseph Dunfordtroops in Afghanistan

Source: “Associated Press”

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