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US Lawmakers Criticize Deadline for Afghan Withdrawal

  • David Dyar

Leading U.S. lawmakers voiced concern on Sunday about President Barrack Obama's plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan starting in July of next year.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Independent Democratic Senator Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut appeared on U.S. television while visiting the Afghan capital, Kabul, and voiced reservations about setting a date for a U.S. military withdrawal from the war torn country.

On ABC television's "This Week" program, McCain said he was concerned about the message that a time line sends. "I'm more concerned about the perception of our friends and our enemies as well as the people in Afghanistan as to the depth of our commitment. Our commitment must be, 'We will succeed and then we will withdraw,'" he said.

McCain, a senior lawmaker and former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, said the United States should not leave Afghanistan until it is stable enough to maintain a strong government. "I'm all for dates of withdrawal, but that's after the strategy succeeds, not before. That's a dramatic difference," he said.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was in Afghanistan with McCain agreed. He told the "Fox News Sunday" program that setting a deadline sends a message to the Afghan people, the Taliban insurgents and neighboring countries that the United States will leave regardless of the security situation. "America has a vital national security interest on the line here and we've got to win it. And therefore, you don't put that on a time line," he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said President Obama's date to begin a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan has created confusion. "This confusion has hurt. It has hurt our friends and emboldened our enemies. We need to get it right and get it clarified. Leaving Afghanistan is about America being safe," he said.

Graham spoke on the CBS television program, "Face the Nation."

Those who support the deadline say it is necessary to prompt Afghan leaders to take responsibility for securing their nation. Analysts say corruption in the Afghan government and Afghanistan's illegal drug trade are stalling efforts to stabilize the country.

U.S. Army General David Petraeus, who formally assumed command of the 140,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan on Sunday, supports the deadline.

In testimony last week to members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus stressed that July 2011 is not a specific withdrawal target, but a time in which the process of pulling out would begin.

The general said the United States has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan and that the withdrawal of U.S. forces depends on security conditions on the ground. Last month, was the deadliest for international forces since the Afghan war began nearly nine years ago.

More than 100 NATO troops died in June, as NATO and Afghan forces intensified operations against the Taliban in the south.

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