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Lawmakers mark decade of war in Afghanistan

Members of the Bay Area’s congressional delegation are speaking out this week on the 10th anniversary of our war in Afghanistan.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, spoke about it on the House floor yesterday:

This morning, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, hosted a Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force hearing entitled “Ten Years On: Why the War in Afghanistan Must End Now.”

“After ten years and $460 billion invested in an unstable country with untrustworthy leadership, it is past time to end the war in Afghanistan,” she said. “Ten years is ten years too long for this wasteful war; it is time to bring our troops and our tax dollars home. That’s why I introduced HR 780 to safely and swiftly redeploy all combat troops and military contractors from Afghanistan.”

Academics, other experts and antiwar advocates discussed the cost of ten years of endless warfare since the overly broad Authorization of Use of Military Force was approved in 2001.

“The costs in blood and treasure in Afghanistan for the U.S., its allies, and for Afghans have been underestimated and undercounted. A comprehensive accounting shows that the intensity of the war is increasing, not decreasing,” said Nita Crawford, a Boston University political science professor and foreign policy expert.

“Afghan civil society leaders want a shift in military strategy,” said Lisa Schirch, Director of 3P Human Security: Partners for Peacebuilding Policy. “Excluding key stakeholders, especially diverse sectors of civil society, will create a recipe for failure.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, spoke at the hearing as well as at a separate, bipartisan event discussing the war’s anniversary; among other House members there were Ron Paul, R-Texas, Walter Jones, R-N.C., John Duncan, R-Tenn., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa. There, Woolsey called the anniversary cause for “sober and solemn reflection:”

“On this occasion let’s remember the 1,800 brave servicemembers who’ve given their lives in Afghanistan over the last decade. Their service and sacrifice couldn’t be more honorable; the mission they were sent on, however, was a moral disgrace.

“Let’s also acknowledge the thousands of Afghan civilians caught in the line of fire and killed for the cause of their so-called liberation. They are casualties of this war and must not be forgotten either.

“We have paid too high a price in blood and treasure over the last 10 years….too high a price for a policy that has not advanced our national security interests.

“This war would be a ripoff at any cost, but when I think about the fact that it’s costing us $10 billion every month, it takes my breath away.

“$10 billion a month! Think of what we could do with $10 billion a month. We could use it to help create the jobs the American people need. $10 billion a month could pay for a lot of Pell Grants, a lot of Head Start slots, a lot of Medicare reimbursements, a lot of school lunches.

“For pennies on the dollar, we can and we must invest in an entirely new approach to protecting America, one that emphasizes diplomacy, multilateral cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution.

“I call this platform Smart Security, and I’ve been promoting it just about every day for the last several years. Instead of invasions and occupations, Smart Security offers other nations partnership and humanitarian aid.

“Instead of a military surge, it promises a much bolder civilian surge that shows American compassion…that embodies the very best American values…that fights poverty, promotes education, rebuilds infrastructure and restores hope.

“The American people have had enough of this war. A new poll even shows that only half of post 9/11 veterans think the Afghanistan war was worth fighting. Isn’t it time we listened to them? Isn’t it time public policy caught up with public sentiment on this life-and-death issue?

“Moral decency, fiscal sanity and public opinion all tell us to do the same thing – after 10 long years, it’s time to bring the troops home.”

Woolsey has contributed to Oakland-based Peace Action West’s effort to mark the anniversary by gathering photos and stories from Californians and others around the nation showing how the war has changed people’s lives.

“Since the war started a decade ago, kids barely old enough to remember the start of the war have packed up to go and fight it,” said Rebecca Griffin, Peace Action West’s political director. “We’re asking people to tell their stories to show what spending a full decade at war really means for our country.”

Woolsey wrote, “Ten years ago, my grandchildren weren’t even born. Since then I have worked in Congress to bring our troops home so they, along with all Americans, can see a time when their country is not at war.”

Kelly Campbell, formerly of Oakland and now of Portland, Ore., wrote, “On the day the US started bombing Afghanistan, we held a memorial for my brother-in-law who was killed on 9/11. Later, I traveled to Afghanistan and joined with others to create 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.”

Sean Alexander of Pittsburg, who was just 11 years old when the war started, joined the Marine Corps at 19 and is now working to end the war. He wrote, “Only 11 years old ten years ago, I was MVP of my Little League baseball team. Now ten years after the war began, I’m fighting for my moral dignity that is to lay down my arms and stand for peace.”

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House passes Eshoo’s bill on religious minorities

The House today overwhelmingly approved a bill by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, to create a special State Department envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.

The bill, HR 440, was introduced in January in the wake of increasing violence, targeted attacks and heightened discrimination against Christians in Iraq and Egypt, and persistent concerns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other nations. The House voted 402-20 today to approve it and send it on to the Senate.

Wolf co-chairs Congress’ bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, named for the late congressman from San Mateo. Threats against religious minorities have been increasing in recent months, he said, and the United States has an obligation to speak out for the voiceless, to develop policies to protect and preserve these communities, and to prioritize these issues in broader U.S. foreign policy.

“The U.S. government needs an individual who can respond and focus on the critical situation of religious minorities in these countries whose basic human rights are increasingly under assault,” Wolf said in today’s news release. “If the international community fails to speak out, the prospects for religious pluralism and tolerance in the region are bleak.”

Eshoo, who co-founded and co-chairs the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus with Wolf, has long pressed the State Department to develop a comprehensive policy to address the unique needs of small, indigenous faith communities in Iraq that are being targeted for violence.

“In a time of partisanship and polarization, it’s gratifying when members from both parties can come together to address the humanitarian crisis that’s been unfolding in the Middle East, and has not been given the attention it deserves,” she said. “As the daughter of Assyrian and Armenian immigrants who fled the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East, it’s terrifying to see history repeating itself in today’s Iraq. I’m hopeful that the special envoy created by this legislation will elevate the crisis of the Middle East’s religious minorities, giving them the diplomatic attention they so badly need and deserve.”

Reps. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough – Lantos’ successor – are among the bill’s co-sponsors.

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Lawmakers’ Afghanistan budget cuts rejected

The House of Representatives today rejected Bay Area lawmakers’ attempts to cut the purse strings for the war in Afghanistan.

The House voted 133-295 on an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, that would’ve reduced U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 25,000 by next year’s end and saved taxpayers an estimated $25 billion in fiscal year 2012.

President Obama last month announced he plans to pull 10,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan this year and 23,000 more by next summer. That would leave about 70,000 troops in Afghanistan as of next summer, more than twice the number serving there when he took office in 2009, with more withdrawals through 2014.

“Our brave men and women are doing tremendous work, but they’re on the wrong mission in Afghanistan. We need to focus on Al Qaeda like a laser wherever they propagate, yes in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and even the United States,” Garamendi, an Armed Services Committee member, said in his news release today. “Our overextended troops and their overstressed families deserve a rapid drawdown from Afghanistan so that they can continue their lives without the constant threat of tragedy inherent in engaging in a five-sided 33-year-old Afghan civil war.”

Garamendi had advocated for the amendment on during a floor debate yesterday:

An amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland – with original cosponsors including Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, as well as several Republicans – would’ve cut $33 billion to leave only “sufficient funds for the orderly withdrawal of combat forces and contractors from Afghanistan.” The House voted 97-322 on that one.

And another Lee amendment would’ve zeroed out the $5 billion Overseas Contingency Operations Transfer Fund, which Lee last month called a Pentagon “slush fund.” That one failed on a 114-314 vote.

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Soldier to recieve Medal of Honor next week

President Obama next Tuesday afternoon will present U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry with the Medal of Honor – the second living, active-duty service member to receive the nation’s highest military decoration for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Arthur Petry (Army photo)Petry, 31, will receive the medal for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty during combat in Paktya, Afghanistan in May 2008. He lost his right hand and suffered shrapnel wounds after throwing a grenade away from his fellow soldiers, according to the Army Times.

Petry, his wife, Ashley, and other family members will join the President at the White House’s East Room for the presentation.

Petry, a native of Santé Fe, N.M., enlisted in September 1999 and attended basic training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, Ga.. He served multiple combat tours to Afghanistan and Iraq totaling 28 months, and now is assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment and attached to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) with duty at Joint Base Lewis McChord, serving as a liaison for the SOCOM Care Coalition by tracking and monitoring injured Rangers returning from war.

He already has received two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, National Defense Service Medal, three Army Good Conduct Medals, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Combat Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Combat Star, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, among other decorations.

Army_Medal_of_HonorThe Code of Federal Regulations says the Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

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Lee, Garamendi muster pressure on Obama

Reps. Barbara Lee and John Garamendi joined with two Republicans to lead dozens of House members in writing to President Obama today to urge him to announce a significant, sizeable withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan when he addresses the nation tomorrow.

“We urge a significant and sizable reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan beginning July 2011,” the lawmakers wrote. “With Osama bin Laden killed and Al Qaeda largely driven from Afghanistan, it is time to accelerate the transfer of security responsibilities to the Government of Afghanistan and to reduce the U.S. military footprint there.”

Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Congress must send a strong message that a token withdrawal is unacceptable.

“Maintaining anywhere near 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, at a cost of $10 billion per month, is an ineffective strategy for fighting terrorism and an unjustified drain on our budget,” he said. “Our brave troops have largely succeeded in driving out Al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Our troops in Afghanistan continue to fight valiantly, but they are now on the wrong mission.”

Lee, D-Oakland, said almost three out of four Americans want to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, and the nation no longer can afford to spend over $100 billion a year on a war without a military solution.

“That why I believe a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan should begin immediately,” she said. “A modest reduction of 30,000 troops should not be considered significant since it would merely return us to 2009 and pre-escalation troop levels. A more ‘significant’ and reasonable goal would be the withdrawal of 50,000 combat troops by the end of this year which is only half of the roughly 100,000 troops currently on the ground.”

Lee and Garamendi joined with Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., in leading the letter effort. Other Bay Area members signing the letter include George Miller, D-Martinez; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Boxer: Airlines must set military baggage policy

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who co-chairs the Senate Military Family Caucus, wrote today to the Air Transport Association of America asking for the airline industry group to help establish and communicate a clear and consistent checked baggage policy across all airlines for active duty military personnel.

Boxer’s letter was prompted by the recent disclosure that Delta Air Lines charged a group of active duty military personnel a total of $2,800 in baggage charges as they flew home from serving in Afghanistan. Delta already has amended its policies, but Boxer wants the entire industry on the same page.

“I urge you to work with the airlines to communicate a clear, consistent approach to both active duty military and airline personnel, which will help our service members get the treatment they deserve,” the senator wrote.

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