Lawmakers still questioning Afghanistan drawdown

The Afghan election crisis and unravelling of Iraq have lawmakers and regional allies thinking President Barack Obama should rethink his decision to withdraw virtually all US troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016.

PTI| Updated: Jul 20, 2014, 00:51 AM IST

Washington: The Afghan election crisis and unravelling of Iraq have lawmakers and regional allies thinking President Barack Obama should rethink his decision to withdraw virtually all US troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016.

The White House says Afghanistan is a different situation from Iraq, mired in sectarian violence since shortly after US troops left, and 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 and his desire to be credited with getting the US out of two conflicts.

Ten senators, Republicans and Democrats, raised the drawdown issue at a congressional hearing Thursday.

They argued that it`s too risky to pull American troops out so quickly.

They don`t want to see Afghanistan go the way of Iraq, and they fear the Afghan security force, while making substantial gains, won`t be ready for solo duty by the end of 2016.

Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, the top US 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 in June 2013.

"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 US withdrawal plan, however, is based on being able to fix the Afghan force`s shortcomings by the end of 2016.

Republican Sen Lindsey Graham, 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."

Earlier this month, Obama`s special envoy to Afghanistan and 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 and not a single Iraqi politician was prepared to advocate our staying. In Afghanistan, the people overwhelmingly want us to stay, and every single contender in the presidential
election said they would sign the bilateral security agreement" with the United States.

Dobbins acknowledged that other countries in the region support the continuation of a US and NATO military mission in Afghanistan for at least several more years.

"Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China all fear Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for their own hostile militant groups."

"India fears Afghanistan again becoming a training ground for terrorist groups targeting them. Russia remains concerned about the flow of narcotics. Iran and Pakistan fear new floods of refugees," he said.