CAPITOL HILL — American lawmakers reacted sharply Wednesday to President Barack Obama’s directive to the U.S. military to prepare for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan if no long-term security agreement is finalized with Kabul.
Many legislators would like to see a residual force remain in Afghanistan, for training and other puposes, but some concede that may not be possible.
Obama took action Tuesday to back up what his administration has been saying for months: absent a bilateral security agreement, or BSA, between the U.S. and Afghanistan, all American troops will depart the country by the end of this year.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he understood Obama was frustrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the document.
“The longer we have to wait for a BSA, the harder it is to plan militarily,” he said.
Graham worried that an Afghanistan left to fend for itself would descend into the chaos and violence that has beset Iraq since U.S. forces left that country - a view shared by fellow Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
“We need to leave a presence in Afghanistan. We made a mistake not leaving one in Iraq. And I hope, whatever the president negotiated, we leave a presence to protect the [U.S.] assets [in Afghanistan], and also to have a deployment if we need it in the future,” he said.
Other lawmakers contend that U.S. troops have already been in Afghanistan too long, and that scarce government resources should be redirected toward domestic needs. As early as 2011, when Obama first announced a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, independent Senator Bernie Sanders said Afghanistan must take full responsibility for its security. He urged a U.S. withdrawal “at significantly faster speed and greater scope” than the administration’s timeline.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said finalizing a BSA with Afghanistan would be in both countries’ best interests. But she added the United States “may not have a choice” except to withdraw if the accord is not finalized. She said President Karzai - or whoever succeeded him after this year’s elections - must understand that Americans have soured on open-ended foreign military commitments.
“The country is war-weary. We have had troops in a war zone for over 10 years now. I think the country wants to bring those servicemen and women home, wants to focus on the challenges we face here at home,” she said.
President Karzai has objected to U.S. military tactics in his country, especially raids on Afghan homes. His spokesman, Faiq Wahidi, repeated the president's demands.
"This agreement must reflect and mean peace to the people of Afghanistan," the spokesman says, "And whenever the Afghan people are convinced that their wish will be met, the agreement will certainly be signed,” he said.
Afghan lawmakers reportedly support the BSA by an overwhelming margin, and many presidential hopefuls preparing for the election, now less than two months away, have said they would sign the accord upon taking office if Karzai failed to do so.
For now, Senator Graham is urging patience, even if that means waiting for a new Afghan president leader to sign the bilateral security agreement. He added, however, “The longer we wait, the more difficult it gets.”