Paul Kawika Martin, the political and policy director of Peace Action — a group founded in 1957 and the largest grassroots peace organization in the U.S. — organized 25 national organizations, representing over 30 million voters, to urge senators to sign the letter.
“The House spoke last month, now the Senate and the American people have long turned against the Afghanistan war,” Martin said. “President Obama needs to announce that all U.S. troops and contractors will be out of Afghanistan well before 2014 with tens of thousands of troops coming home this year. It’s time to focus on political negotiations and Afghan-led aid and development.”
The bipartisan letter, sent on the eve of a presidential decision on the number of troops to come home in July, included 10 committee chairs and Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) — the Senate majority whip, the second highest position in the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate.
Other committee chairs such as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and other senators like Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) have recently made statements for significant troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.
The letter led by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) shows a clear shift in the Senate towards bringing troops home from Afghanistan since a vote last May for former Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wisc.) amendment for a withdraw timeline garnered 18 Democrats.
A letter signed by over a dozen current and former military officials including four generals supported the Senate letter.
Last month, the House sent a clear signal to president for an accelerated withdrawal by narrowly failing to pass an amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act – 204 representatives voted aye, including a record 26 Republicans.
The amendment was offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (D-N.C.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and would have, among other things, required plan and timeframe on accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities from the Pentagon.
The extreme cost of the war of $2 billion a week, with long-term costs much higher, and questions whether the military strategy is actually making Americans safer are causing Congress and Republican presidential candidates to call for a quicker end to the war.
Peace Action calls for all troops and contractors out of Afghanistan within one year with resources focused on political reconciliation and Afghan-led aid and development.
“In 2012, voters will want to see that President Obama is ending the war in Afghanistan by quickly bringing troops home in very large numbers,” concluded Martin.