WASHINGTON — As President Obama announced an order to force the Afghans to allow tens of thousands of American troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2016, a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrats Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein and Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham called on the president to appoint a “liberation czar” to help to plan for an eventual drawdown of U.S. forces.
“Thousands of American and Afghan troops will be left fighting on the battlefield as President Obama presents another option to his advisers,” the three senators wrote in a letter Wednesday to the president. “If the strategy is a military one that eases the burden on the Afghan army while moving toward an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops, we must re-evaluate the strategy. However, the most important responsibility for our decisions regarding Afghanistan rests in the White House.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, made a similar point in the Senate a day earlier in a statement supporting the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“We need an adequate strategy for withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan,” he said. “And, it’s time to drop the illusions and the propaganda and the rhetoric of ‘nation building’ and ‘supporting democracy,’ as it was done in Iraq.”
The senators also raised concerns about the media coverage of the situation, saying the press will have to “work to focus on the people of Afghanistan and the suffering of the Afghan people.” They also said the increased focus on the war in Afghanistan is being done in “short order,” meaning “It will become harder, and in many cases impossible, to say when our part of this story ends.”
The Pentagon is reporting some of the most remote outposts in the country are beginning to move closer to Afghan military checkpoints as part of a growing trend toward fusion of the Afghan army with U.S. forces, and that defense officials anticipate some 8,000 or so U.S. troops will remain there after 2016.
In other announcements Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that increased U.S. training will focus on the Afghan special forces, and that training will have a “nominal” presence in the United States. President Obama also detailed plans to spend more than $1 billion over three years to develop 40 areas across Afghanistan to meet a partnership plan.
The proposals are designed to move closer to what many in Washington have already hoped, although until now a formal framework for the engagement in Afghanistan has not been set.
While more than 30,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, a U.S. exit strategy has been stalled as the Obama administration deals with Afghanistan’s political leaders, who will begin deciding on how to handle the withdrawal of their military forces in early 2015.