Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are applying fresh pressure on the Obama administration to draw down US troops in Afghanistan faster than many military leaders say is responsible, forcing the president to balance his party’s demands with his generals’ on-the-ground assessment as he nears another milestone in the war.
When he announced his war strategy 18 months ago, President Barack Obama set July as the point when he would begin bringing home the approximately 100,000 US service members in Afghanistan. Administration officials have portrayed the reduction as just another planned step in the president’s strategy.
But Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is among a growing number of congressional leaders urging Obama to take full advantage of progress achieved over the past 18 months by narrowing the mission’s focus.
These lawmakers argue that, at a time of fiscal stress at home, the administration should concentrate on targeting al Qaeda and protecting other US security interests in the region, rather than on maintaining the broad military deployments across much of southern and eastern Afghanistan and the costly nation-building elements of the counterinsurgency strategy.
This political push could force the White House to revisit a contentious internal debate that unfolded in fall 2009, when Obama’s civilian advisers challenged the uniformed military over how best to change the course of a flagging war effort.
But Obama is now making his decision amid a difficult re-election effort and when the killing of Osama bin Laden has made some lawmakers argue that the time is ripe to dramatically scale back the US war effort.
“The president ought to take advantage of that success and push us in a direction that accelerates the ability of the Afghans” to take over operations, said Kerry, D-Mass.
Obama is awaiting a set of recommendations from his military commanders on how many troops to bring home in July and the pace of withdrawal over the months ahead. Defence secretary Robert Gates, who on Friday concluded an 11-day trip that took him to Afghanistan, could deliver General David Petraeus’ proposed options to Obama in the next week.
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