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US Role in Afghanistan Questioned After bin Laden Death

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks to Marines while visiting the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment at Forward Operating Base Sabit Qadam in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 8, 2011 (file photo)
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks to Marines while visiting the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment at Forward Operating Base Sabit Qadam in Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 8, 2011 (file photo)

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Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, U.S. involvement in Afghanistan faces greater scrutiny. Some lawmakers, and analysts, in Washington, D.C.,  want President Barack Obama to do more than begin the initial withdrawal of some troops, while others want even more boots on the ground.

The Afghanistan war began as an effort to find Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network. It has grown to 100,000 U.S. troops, plus tens of thousands of allied forces, at a cost this year of at least $100 billion. But more than a year ago, the president said, "America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan."

So in July, some U.S. troops will withdraw.

Now, however, with terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden dead, some say that changes everything.

Steve Clemons, the founder of the private Afghanistan Study Group, wants even more U.S. troops out, and less combat. He said having U.S. troops in unstable areas results in higher al-Qaida recruitment.

"So if you move to the parts of Afghanistan that are more stable, that you can secure human rights, that you can help set up systems of government that themselves become compelling to and seductive to other parts of the state," said Clemons. "That would be fantastic because the Taliban would have to deal with that appetite that their own people have."

Clemons favors pulling out 30,000 troops in July, and withdrawing thousands more on a regular basis.

Others obviously disagree. Listen to this debate between Brian Katulis of The Center for American Progress and James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation.

"Cutting back on the military now would be about dumbest thing the United States could do," said Carafano. "This is exactly the wrong time to do that. Picture you’re in the middle of a marathon, and you’re winning, do you stop and let everyone catch up?"

"I don’t understand what winning means in Afghanistan today -  if we’ve got only about 100 al-Qaida militants in that country and we have a much bigger threat in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen," said Katulis.

In addition to Yemen, analysts feel more resources should move toward Pakistan, a larger country with six times as many people as Afghanistan and an unknown number of nuclear weapons.

"We're never going to have boots on the ground in a substantial way in Pakistan, but we do need to increase our support and funding to the Pakistani people," said Katulis. "We're now over-invested in Afghanistan to the detriment of Pakistan."

With mounting evidence that bin Laden lived in Pakistan for the past five years, though, many question the billions of dollars the U.S. gives to Pakistan. The White House explains the U.S.-Pakistan relationship by saying, "It's complicated." Just like the U.S. role in Afghanistan.


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an award-winning television reporter who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.  She has won an Emmy, many Associated Press awards, and a Clarion for her coverage of Haiti,  national politics, the southern economy, and the 9/11 bombing anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Syrian medical crisis and the Asiana plane crash, and was VOA’s chief reporter from the Boston Marathon bombing.

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