Members of Congress are urging reexamination of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, after President Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of military forces there.
In replacing McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, Obama said U.S. policy regarding Afghanistan would not change.
But Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. – who alone in Congress voted against authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack – again called for “a clear exit strategy and a timeline to safely redeploy our troops from Afghanistan.”
In a statement, she expressed agreement with Obama’s decision to remove McChrystal, and called for fundamentally rethinking U.S. Afghanistan policy and reorienting efforts against terrorism “in a more effective and sustainable manner.”
Interviewed by radio station KPFA June 24, Lee said the change in military leadership needs to be accompanied by “a change in strategy, a change in mission, a change in direction.”
Noting that U.S. soldiers continue to be in harm’s way in “one of the most dangerous periods,” she said she “respectfully disagrees” with Obama about the troop surge: “I think this is an opportune time to step back and to reassess where we have been and where we are going.”
The issue is increasingly being discussed among members of Congress, Lee said. “There is a lot of reluctance right now to continue to support this war in Afghanistan, recognizing that there is no military solution.”
With a vote expected soon on a $33.5 billion supplemental appropriation for the war, Lee said the amendment she is introducing to deny funding for the increase in troop levels “is picking up support.” Last fall she introduced HR 3699, to ban funding for any increase in the number of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan. The measure now has 31 co-sponsors, including some recent additions.
Emphasizing that global terrorism must be addressed “in a big way,” Lee commended Obama for “doing a good job,” and noted that he inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from President Bush. “But I think he also needs to break away from the past policies on terrorism and know that we have to have a comprehensive policy on terrorism” that includes diplomacy and development, she said.
Other members of Congress also pointed to the change in military leadership as an opportunity to address underlying issues.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., said that while McChrystal’s comments in a Rolling Stone interview “were inappropriate,” he is “much more concerned” about the direction of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including the safety and well-being of U.S. troops and their families. “I believe we need a thorough reexamination of our policy,” McGovern said. “This is much, much bigger than a few ill-chosen words.”
In April, McGovern introduced HR 5015, “to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.” Lee was an original co-sponsor; the bill now has 98 co-sponsors.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who introduced a companion measure to McGovern’s bill in the Senate, called Obama’s acceptance of the general’s resignation “appropriate,” but added that he continues “to have strong concerns about our misguided policy in Afghanistan. After nine years, it is time to give the American people, as well as the people of Afghanistan, a timetable to end this war so our nation can better focus on the global threat posed by al Qaeda and its affiliates.”
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., urged his colleagues to approve the supplemental appropriation, but said McChrystal’s remarks, coupled with a House panel’s finding that indirect U.S. payments have gone to Afghan warlords and the Taliban, have made it harder to sustain support for the war.
This week a House subcommittee heard results of a six-month investigation that found funds paid to a private security contractor in Afghanistan were diverted to bribes as supply convoys traveled to remote areas.
Photo: Mildred Hardee, mother of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Smith, touches the flag that draped his casket during funeral services for Sgt. Smith at Mobile Memorial Garden, June 21, in Tillman’s Corner, Ala. Smith, 26, was killed in action June 9 while rescuing soldiers in Afghanistan when Taliban insurgents fired two rocket-propelled grenades at his helicopter as it flew across Helmand province. He had only five days of combat duty left, according to his mother. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan. (AP/Press-Register, G.M. Andrews)