In a historic move June 13 the House of Representatives effectively said there is no congressional authorization for a permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The move was part of an overwhelmingly approved bipartisan measure calling for a complete and speedy end to the 12-year war there. For the first time, a majority of House Republicans supported the legislation.
In addition to calling for a speedy end to the war the measure specifically says that any decision to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 would require the permission of Congress.
The move, in the form of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, was led by Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; John Garamendi, D-Calif.; and Adam Smith, D-Wash. Smith is the leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
The measure, "to require the President to complete the accelerated transition of combat operations from U.S. Armed Forces to the Government of Afghanistan no later than by the end of 2013; the accelerated transition of military and security operations by the end of 2014, including the redeployment of U.S. troops; and to pursue robust negotiations to address Afghanistan's and the region's security and stability," passed by 305-121.
The amendment also expresses the "sense of Congress that should the President determine that deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is needed after 2014, the Congress should vote to authorize such a presence and mission by no later than June 2014."
The vote is seen as important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the Pentagon has been advocating for a post war force of 15,000 troops, and last month Afghan President Hamid Karzai told an audience at Kabul university that Afghanistan "can agree" to give the U.S. nine bases he said Washington is seeking.
Longtime peace activist Tom Hayden observed that the amendment's passage "means that the Obama administration effectively lacks any congressional authorization for a permanent occupation of Afghanistan."
Over half the Republican House caucus voted for the measure, including six members from Texas, 11 from Florida and four of five from Kentucky. By contrast, in 2009 only seven House Republicans supported McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to report to Congress on a strategy for U.S. military forces to leave Afghanistan by the end of that year.
Just nine Democrats opposed McGovern's latest amendment.
The vote is also seen as important because it is the first time the House of Representatives as a body has registered its opposition to the war.
"Today's overwhelming vote is an important milestone as, for the first time, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives joined with the American public in demanding an end to America's longest war," said Stephen Miles, coalition coordinator of Win without War. "Unfortunately, today's vote comes too late for the more than 2,200 American service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan."
Countless Afghan civilians have also been killed, wounded or displaced in the conflict.
The measure is actually the culmination of a long series of anti-Afghan war moves, however, that have taken place on the congressional level.
In May 2011 the House nearly passed a bipartisan amendment by McGovern and Jones, calling on Obama to prepare a plan with a timeline to transfer military operations to Afghan authorities. The measure went down, 204-215, with 178 Democrats and 26 Republicans supporting it, and eight Democrats and 207 Republicans voting No.
Last December, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley's amendment calling for an expedited withdrawal from Afghanistan was adopted by the Senate.
In February 2012, 88 House members signed onto a letter to President Obama, initiated by McGovern and Jones, calling for an expedited withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The next month 24 senators led by Merkley and Max Baucus, D-Mont., wrote to the president, supporting an end to U.S. combat operations there.
In April 2010, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., joined McGovern and Jones in introducing a bipartisan bill calling for a plan and timetable for withdrawal.
Earlier this year, Lee introduced H.R. 200, the latest of several measures she has introduced, to limit funding for the war to that needed for "safe and orderly withdrawal" of all U.S. troops and contractors. Lee has also repeatedly sought repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In October 2001, she was the only member of Congress to vote No on the AUMF, which gave the Bush administration sweeping powers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
Photo: A member of the Patriot Guard Rider holds a U.S. flag as mourners make their way to the funeral service for a pilot from Michigan who died when his plane crashed at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Over 2.200 American service members have died so far in the war there. Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News/AP