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US Lawmakers Divided on Afghanistan

Opinions remain sharply divided in Congress as President Obama says a new plan will address every aspect of US strategy in the war

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Michael Bowman

As U.S. President Barack Obama nears an anticipated decision on America's future engagement in Afghanistan, opinions remain sharply divided in Congress, which would provide funding for the mission. 

Weeks have passed since President Obama's top commander in Afghanistan formally urged the White House to order a swift surge of U.S. troops to battle militant extremists in the violence-plagued nation.  President Obama has promised to unveil a detailed plan for Afghanistan in coming weeks, one that he says will address every aspect of U.S. strategy in the war and put the United States and its NATO allies on a path to victory.

But what the White House sees as a necessary, thoughtful process to arrive at the best-possible decision on an eight-year conflict is seen as dangerous "dithering" [delay] by Republican legislators.  Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee spoke on Fox News Sunday.

"He [Obama] should show a sense of urgency and come up to Congress and tell us exactly what he plans to do," said Alexander.

Fellow-Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri blasted the president for recent comments in which he stressed the need for an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

"Now saying we are going in with a plan of getting out tells not only our troops that we are unsure about [U.S.] support [for the mission], but it tells the people of Afghanistan that the United States does not have the will to stay,” said Bond. “We have to win the confidence of the people of Afghanistan."

But not everyone believes that more U.S. troops, however rapidly deployed, will assure the defeat of Taliban militants and deny terrorists a safe haven from which to plan attacks on Western targets.  Among the skeptics is Democratic Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who also appeared on Fox News Sunday.

"I do not believe we ought to add troops in Afghanistan unless it is indispensable in our war against al-Qaida,” said Specter.  “If it is, then we have to do whatever it takes because al-Qaida is out to annihilate us.  If they can organize as well in Yemen or Somalia or someplace else, then why fight in Afghanistan where no one [outside force] has been successful for millennia?"

U.S. public-opinion surveys show declining support for the war in Afghanistan.  Many analysts believe President Obama will order additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, but the total will be less than the 40,000 troops requested by his top commander in the country, General Stanley McChrystal. 

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