Peace group raises issue with Obama Afghanistan move

President Obama’s announcement of a limited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — America’s longest war — is bound to disappoint members of Congress and an electorate tired of the conflict.

As has been reported, senior White House officials confirmed that the President plans to remove 10,000 troops by the end of this year and another 23,000 troops by September 2012.

“Removing a few brigades this year, then several more next year, still leaves more than double the U.S. troops in Afghanistan than when President Obama took office. There’s no military solution in Afghanistan. It’s time to bring all troops and contractors home and focus on the political solution, which is the only way this costly war will end,” observed 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.

The pace of troop drawdown is significantly smaller than asked for by some in Congress. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Arms Services Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) wanted 15,000, 30,000, and 50,000 out this year, respectfully. Today, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) the minority chair of the Sen. Foreign Relations committee said the withdrawal was inadequate.

The President’s numbers for this year represent a small percentage of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and over 100,000 additional contractors.

Both chambers of Congress on a bipartisan basis have pushed for a sizable number of troops to leave.

Last week, a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. Senators — led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) — sent a letter to President Obama asking for a “sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.” A half dozen more Senators made similar statements individually.

Last month, the House sent a clear signal to President for an accelerated withdrawal by narrowly failing to pass an amendment offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Walter Jones (D-NC) and others to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act. 204 Representatives voted aye, including a record 26 Republicans.

Congress has been feeling voter pressure on the war. A pew poll released yesterday showed a strong majority of Americans support bringing troops home “as soon as possible.” Peace Action organized twenty-five national organizations, representing over 30 million voters, to sign onto a letter echoing this sentiment by asking for a “sizable and sustained” withdrawal.

With the high costs of $10 Billion a month for the war, lawmakers on Capitol Hill and locally are questioning whether the costs are making the U.S. safer. The U.S. Conference of Mayors just approved a resolution calling for a speedy end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and redirection of scarce dollars for “urgent domestic needs.”

The war has become more deadly to U.S. troops, which has weighed heavy on lawmakers. Over 1,600 U.S. troops have been killed in the nearly ten-year long war. This year has surpassed 2009 as the deadliest year of the conflict, killing 57 percent more American service members. Tens of thousands more have been wounded physically and mentally. An unknown number, but estimated to be in the tens of thousands, of Afghan civilians have perished, and the United Nations reported that so far, 2011 is the worst year for civilians deaths.

Republican Presidential candidates like Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul are also calling 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 November 2012, voters will want to see less than 67,000 troops and even more contractors still in Afghanistan. The President will need to speed up his plans and announce more troops coming home to please the electorate,” concluded Martin.

The President announced his first surge of 20,000 troops in spring 2009. Then started sending another 33,000 in December of that year nearly tripling the number of troops on the ground when he took office.



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