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Obama's Afghanistan plan draws fire

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Mullen did not reveal his own recommendation to Obama but indicated that the president's approach comes close to risking failure. He told lawmakers that to pull out more than the 10,000 this year or to hasten their exit earlier than next summer would "undo all the gains" that the 2010 surge of U.S. military forces has achieved.

Criticism to plan

The Obama plan has drawn criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans. Congressional Democrats call the pullout too slow. Many Republicans say it is too fast.

"It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the president laid out - and we will continue to press for a better outcome," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leading a chorus of disgruntled Democrats who took the president to task, albeit politely.

From across the aisle, the Republican response to Obama's timeline for withdrawing tens of thousands of troops was measured. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned Obama not to sacrifice the gains the U.S. has made in Afghanistan, while Arizona Sen. John McCain said the drawdown was too rash.

"This is not the `modest' withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated," McCain said in a statement following Obama's prime-time address to the nation Wednesday night.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring next week, issued a statement Wednesday night saying he supports the president's decision because "it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion."

Some in Congress have suggested that Obama was playing politics with the war plan.

Potential GOP presidential candidates were quick to weigh in with criticism.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accused Obama of proposing an "arbitrary timetable" and said the decision on withdrawing troops "should not be based on politics or economics." Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said the approach in Afghanistan should be focused on counterterrorism, "which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the president discussed tonight."

Military commanders favored a plan that would allow them to keep as many of the 30,000 surge troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, ideally through the end of 2012.

Also Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised that his nation's youth will stand up and defend Afghanistan as the U.S. begins to pull out. Karzai thanked international troops for their support and said "the people of Afghanistan will be protecting their homeland."

As he works to sell his withdrawal plan, Obama on Thursday was to visit Fort Drum, the upstate New York Army post that is home to the 10th Mountain Division, one of the divisions deployed most frequently to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama ordered more than 30,000 "surge" forces to Afghanistan in 2009 in order to rescue a flailing effort, and promised to start bringing them home in July of this year. In his speech Wednesday night, he declared: "The tide of war is receding."

Most Americans oppose continuing the war in Afghanistan. At least 1,500 members of the U.S. military have died and 12,000 have been wounded since the war began in late 2001. The financial cost of the war has passed $440 billion and is on the rise, jumping to $120 billion a year.

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