Senators Offer Guideposts for Afghanistan Troop Increase

Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:08pm

Senators from both parties, including Majority Whip Jon Kyl, identified a list of parameters on Sunday that President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan will have to address in order to justify a troop increase in the troubled region. Obama is scheduled to give a prime-time speech at West Point on Tuesday outlining his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on “Fox News Sunday— that Republicans hoped Obama’s plan would send 40,000 troops to Afghanistan in accordance with recommendations made by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.But Kyl cautioned against sending a smaller number of troops or a phased escalation.“That is kind of reminiscent of Vietnam. That escalation, that slow escalation didn’t work there,— Kyl said. “You need to put in everybody you can as quickly as you can and deliver a knock-out punch to the enemy.—Kyl added that any exit strategy employed by the administration would derail any hope of bringing real change to the region.“I think all this talk about an exit strategy is really dangerous [because] it tells the Taliban just to lay low until we leave,— Kyl said. “It does not encourage the Europeans, for example, and our other NATO allies that this is a cause worth sending their troops to support.—Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said he agreed with Kyl about the importance of getting new troops to the region quickly, but he cautioned against judging a phased influx of troops too harshly, pointing out that the southernmost region of Afghanistan does not have “the infrastructure being there to absorb them right away.—Bayh disagreed with Kyl that laying out an exit strategy would be a mistake. The moderate Democrat argued that the Afghans and Pakistanis needed to know that American troops will not be there to help them indefinitely.“It’s a fine balance,— Bayh said. “We have to show that we have the determination to see this through … but keep the pressure on them to do their part. And by talking about an exit strategy under the right set of circumstances, I think you do that.—Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) echoed Bayh’s remarks on CNN’s “State of the Union.—“The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis. And if that can be done, then I will support the president,— Reed said.But he added that Obama “has to make a speech that shows that all of our efforts are pointed to our reduced presence in Afghanistan.—Several lawmakers expressed concern about the cost of the war.Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) suggested putting on hold the debate over a massive overhaul of the American health care system so Congress can concentrate on the war.“This may be an audacious suggestion, but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year … and talk now about the essentials — the war and money,— Lugar said on CNN.Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), appearing on ABC’s “This Week,— said he would support Obama’s call for more troops but said he would like to see Congress cut spending in other government programs to offset the costs.“I would like to have an endeavor to see if we can cut current spending and find some dollars that we are spending today to pay for the war, and prioritize America’s spending,— Graham said.In addition to the partisan divisions over the war in Afghanistan, the debates on the Sunday talk shows also highlighted some of the obstacles Obama will face from within his own party.Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation— that Obama would need to explain to the American people how an increase in the combat forces in Afghanistan would help to strengthen the Afghan military.“We already have more troops in Afghanistan then there are Afghan troops being partnered— with American trainers and mentors in Afghanistan, Levin said. “The shortage in Afghanistan in terms of partnering … with the Afghan forces is not a shortage of American troops, it’s the shortage of Afghan troops.—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, said on “This Week— that he needed to see “real international cooperation— before supporting any expansion of the war. “I’ve got a real problem about expanding this war while the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, ‘Isn’t it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the Unites States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?’— Sanders said. “So what I want to see is some real international cooperation, not just from Europe, but from Russia and from China— because the outcome in Afghanistan and Pakistan has global implications.