US Congress Uneasy Over Plans To Leave Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s disputed election and Iraq’s unraveling are giving members of Congress and US allies in the region reason to think President Obama should reconsider his decision to withdraw virtually all Americans troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016.
The White House says Afghanistan is different from Iraq, mired in sectarian violence since shortly after US troops left, and that the drawdown decision is a done deal.
Some lawmakers, however, are uncomfortable with Obama’s plan, which responds to the American public’s war fatigue and his desire to be credited with pulling the United States out of two conflicts. Ten senators, Republicans and Democrats, raised the drawdown issue at a congressional hearing Thursday.
They argued that it is too risky to withdraw US troops out so quickly, especially with the Afghan presidential election in the balance. They do not want to see Afghanistan go the way of Iraq; they fear the Afghan security force, while making gains, will not 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, about 20,200 American troops will leave Afghanistan during the next five months, dropping the US force to 9,800 by year’s end.
That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, with only about 1,000 remaining in Kabul after the end of 2016.
Marine General Joseph Dunford, the top US commander in Afghanistan, testified in the past week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He spoke highly of the 352,000-strong Afghan security force that assumed responsibility in June 2013 and lauded them for keeping violence down during the recent election.
The US withdrawal plan is based on being able to fix the Afghan security force’s shortcomings by the end of 2016.
Dunford described gaps in planning, programming, budgeting, delivering spare parts, fuel payment systems. Afghanistan also needs to brush up its intelligence operation and develop the nascent air force.
He laid out his best-case scenario under the current plan:
■ The Afghan presidential election is resolved.
■ Afghan security forces continue to improve and are sustainable by 2017 so a small US presence inside the US Embassy in Kabul — a ‘‘security cooperation office’’ — is sufficient.
■ Shortfalls in the Afghan forces are addressed.
■ The United States and other donor nations continue to fund the Afghan government, security forces, and development projects.
■ Afghan-Pakistani relations improve and the two nations have adequate capabilities — and the will — to counter terrorism.
His worst-case outcome: The election remains unresolved; Afghan-Pakistan relations sour and both countries fall short of battling extremist militants; Al Qaeda or other militant groups regain their footing in the region and plot attacks on the United States.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said, ‘‘There’s a disaster in the making to our homeland and to losing all the gains we fought for inside of Afghanistan by drawing down too quick and not being able to help the Afghans in a reasonable fashion.’’