Rep. Barbara Lee – who cast Congress’ lone vote against authorizing use of military force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, deeming it a blank check for endless war – isn’t happy with President Barack Obama’s announcement that he’s dropping plans to withdraw nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2016’s end.
“Just last week, our nation marked the 14th anniversary of the US invasion in Afghanistan. Today, we learned that our troops will remain in the country through 2017, further extending the longest war in American history,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Thursday. “In Afghanistan, our brave servicemen and women have gone above and beyond the call of duty. It’s past time to end this war.”
Lee said 2,350 service members have lost their lives; many thousands more bear visible and invisible scars, and the war’s price tag now tops $716 billion – money better spent on domestic priorities.
“More than a decade later, we remain mired in a war with no end. Rather than extending this costly war, it’s time to listen to the American people and bring our troops home,” she said. “While Afghanistan and the region still face significant challenges, history has shown us that there is no military solution. Only an inclusive political solution can put Afghanistan on a path to peace and prosperity. The future of Afghanistan must be in the hands of the Afghan people.”
President Obama has re-broadened U.S. troops’ combat role in Afghanistan.
The decision made in recent weeks extends previous plans by authorizing U.S. troops to carry out combat operations against the Taliban to protect Americans and support Afghanistan’s security forces as part of the new ISAF Resolute Support mission next year, Reuters reports.
Obama had announced in May that U.S. troop levels would be cut to 9,800 by the end of the year, by half again in 2015 and to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul by the end of 2016. Under that plan, only a small contingent of 1,800 U.S. troops was limited to counter terrorism operations against remnants of al Qaeda. The new orders will also allow operations against the Taliban.
And Rep. Barbara Lee – a staunch critic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan ever since being the lone vote against authorizing military force days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – is not amused.
“After more than a decade of open-ended war, I am deeply troubled to see the Administration expanding the role of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Sunday. “Many military and foreign policy experts agree that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people.
“Our brave servicemen and women have performed their mission with courage, valor and commitment in an impossible situation,” she said. “It is time to stop endless war and bring our servicemen and women home to their families.”
Rep. Barbara Lee is among lawmakers moving to ensure America doesn’t get sucked back into war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but all of her proposals were rejected Thursday and Friday.
Lee, D-Oakland, on Thursday introduced four amendments to the 2015 Pentagon budget bill. One would specify that no money in the bill can be used for deploying troops on the ground in Iraq; this failed on a 165-250 vote late Thursday.
Another prohibits funding for use of force under the 2002 authorization that Congress gave for military action in Iraq; this failed on a 182-231 vote late Thursday.
The third prohibits funding for combat operations in Afghanistan after December, the time at which President Obama said the U.S. combat mission there would end. This failed Friday on a 153-260 vote.
And the fourth prohibits funding under the use of force Congress approved in September 2001; this failed on a 157-260 vote late Thursday. Lee famously was the sole vote against the 2001 authorization for use of military force.
“We must not let history repeat itself in Iraq,” Lee had said on the House floor Thursday. “Because the reality is there is no military solution in Iraq.
Some conservatives are blasting Rep. Jackie Speier for disputing the Taliban’s status as “terrorists” during an MSNBC interview Tuesday.
Speier, D-San Mateo, was being interviewed about the Obama administration’s swap of several Taliban-related prisoners whom the U.S. was holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for captured U.S. serviceman Bowe Bergdahl.
“Let me underscore the term ‘terrorists.’ The Taliban is part of the fabric of Afghanistan, they were part of the leadership of that country before we engaged there. We are now actively attempting to get the Taliban to negotiate with President Karzai and the Afghanistani government because there will be some cooperation, some level of coordination between the two if that country is going to survive and move forward. So, to say that they are terrorists at this point is not necessarily accurate.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Move America Forward – a Sacramento-based nonprofit known primarily for raising money to send care packages to U.S. troops overseas – sent out a fundraising email with this photo near the top:
“According to a [sic] Rep. Speier, the Taliban had legitimacy when they ruled over Afghanistan by enforcing Sharia law, persecuting women, helping Al Qaeda plot 9/11 and killing anyone who dissented against them,” the email said. “That is, until we stopped them and liberated Afghanistan from their theocratic rule in 2001. Oh, they aren’t terrorists, they’re a social movement that’s just another part of the fabric of Afghanistan…’
“Is she serious? Rep. Speier needs a reality check! The Taliban are indeed terrorists committed to killing Americans and we are still very much at war with them!” the email continued. “With leaders like these, is it any wonder our troops sometimes wonder if America still supports them? Don’t let our troops be unsure – show them that we still support their efforts and pray for their safety.”
Obama said he will cut the current U.S. force of 32,000 troops to about 9,800 as the U.S. combat mission formally ends later this year; the remainder will stay there to focus on training Afghan security forces and on counterterrorism efforts. The 9,800 will be halved and consolidated in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, over 2015, and fewer than 1,000 will remain after 2016 to staff a security office in Kabul.
“Today, President Obama announced a path forward to fulfill his core promise: to enhance the security of the American people, to end the war in Afghanistan responsibly, and to bring us closer to the day when all of our troops can come safely home.
“The course of action unveiled today moves our nation step-by-step to a conclusion of the long conflict in Afghanistan. This strategy will ensure our military maintains a strong enough presence to continue supporting counter-terrorism operations, train Afghan security forces, and build on the efforts to return responsibility for the safety of the Afghan people to Afghanistan’s leaders themselves.
“The longest war in American history is now coming to an end. We have reached this moment thanks to the bravery of our troops and the sacrifices they and their families have made over more than a decade of conflict. As these men and women prepare to return home, we express our unending gratitude for their service and rededicate ourselves to never lose focus on our common mission: to protect the security of all Americans, preserve freedom for all families, and promote peace worldwide.”
“I respectfully disagree with plans announced today to leave nearly 10,000 troops and an unknown number of contractors in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and to extend U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan until 2016.
“After thirteen years at war, it’s obvious that there is no military solution in Afghanistan and it is far past time to end the war and bring all of our troops home now.
“At the very least, Congress should debate and vote on this agreement that will keep our troops in Afghanistan for years to come and will cost billions more in spending. Enough is enough.”
Led by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the House Armed Service Committee’s ranking Democrat, the delegation met with top U.S. military officials including Marine Four-Star General Joe Dunford, commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. They were briefed on the drawdown of American troops, the transition of responsibility to the Afghanistan National Security Force and the supporting role our troops are now playing. Swalwell’s office reports he also met with troops from his own 15th Congressional District, as well as local Afghan leaders and military officers.
In the UAE, the lawmakers were briefed by military and intelligence officials on the developing situation in Syria as well as the strategic partnership between the UAE and the United States.
“I was encouraged to see that the efforts of our Armed Forces have better prepared Afghan troops to play a primary security role in the region as we significantly reduce our troop levels in Afghanistan,” Swalwell said in a news release issued Thursday. “I especially appreciated the opportunity to visit with our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan, including several of my constituents.
“Since being sworn-in back in January, I’ve been able to celebrate many troop homecomings from Afghanistan in the East Bay and also sadly have eulogized at a funeral of local hero who gave his life serving in Operation Enduring Freedom,” he added. “It was an honor to visit our troops in Afghanistan to express my appreciation for their service to our country and dedication to a smooth transition of power as we step back to play a supporting role. Our troops’ preparation of the Afghan Forces will help ensure that the country is never again a safe harbor and training ground for terrorists who wish to plan attacks against Americans.”