House members want clear plan on Afghanistan

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, led about two dozen House members in writing to President Barack Obama today to ask that he provide Congress with “a clear commitment and plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan” before the vote on the supplemental funding bill.

“It has been nearly a decade since we went to Afghanistan and we still are not sure why we are there or can define a successful mission,” she said in a news release. “This war is now the longest war in American history. We simply cannot continue to fund a war that seemingly has no end in sight. It’s past time we have a clear exit strategy and timeline for redeployment of our troops.”

The letter cites conflicting statements by members of the Administration and the military command – for example, in the same Rolling Stone article that led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal being sacked, a senior military official stationed in Afghanistan indicated military success could actually lead to more U.S. troops deployed there, not fewer: “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here.”

The letter also cites U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on ABC’s “This Week” last December as well as Gen. David Petraeus in today’s Washington Post indicating troops necessarily won’t be meaningfully withdrawn in the summer of 2011.

Among the other House members signing Lee’s letter are Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…

June 24, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
White House
Washington DC

Dear Mr. President,

We fully agree with your admonition that a “unity of effort” is necessary to pursue US policy in Afghanistan. We support your decisive action in accepting the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal to advance this goal. But, we believe that achieving unity of effort also requires a clear commitment, time-frame and plan for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

The lack of clarity on when and how the US will end its military commitment to Afghanistan has created confusion amongst U.S. service members and the public. The controversial article in Rolling Stone Magazine that led you to accept the resignation of General McChrystal, for example, also reports that a senior military official stationed in Afghanistan believes that military success could actually lead to an escalation of forces, not a withdrawal: “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here.”

This view reflects the ambiguous and tentative positions that Secretary Gates and General Petraeus continue to articulate about a date certain for the withdrawal of US forces. On the ABC news program “This Week”, Secretary Gates said: “We will have 100,000 troops there and they are not leaving in July of 2011. Some handful, or some small number, or whatever conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.” General Petraeus is described in today’s Washington Post as “a commander who may become a formidable advocate for slowing, or arresting outright, the pace of troop reductions next summer.”

Mr. President, we believe that it is imperative for you to provide Congress and the American people with a clear commitment and plan to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. This should include not only a date certain for the initiation of this withdrawal but a date for its completion and a strategy to achieve it. We believe that clarity on this vital point is a prerequisite for the unity of effort that you rightly seek in the implementation of your Afghanistan policy and for Congress to responsibly consider further funding requests for the war.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.