Dec 02 2009

Alabama lawmakers skeptical of Obama Afghanistan withdrawal

Huntsville TImes

By Shelby G. Spires

An Army howitzer blasts at the enemy in Afghanistan in this Pentagon file photo. Alabama's senior lawmaker in Washington DC - Sen. Richard Shelby - along with members of the North Alabama delegation, agree only so far with President Barack Obama's plan to boost troop strength and end the war in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, Obama told cadets at the United Stated Military Academy at West Point, in New York, that he plans to send 30,000 troops to the war-torn nation in an effort to fight insurgents and to train Afghani military and police units. He wants American military units to start a withdrawal by July 2011.

Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, agreed that troop levels must be increased in Afghanistan, but said Obama's plan to accelerate an exit strategy from Afghanistan is against military advice. Alabama U.S. Reps. Parker Griffith and Robert Aderholt also raised issues about the draw-down timetable.

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, overall commander for the Afghanistan war, has asked for up to 40,000 more troops and the equipment to support them. Many members of Congress have publicly supported sending more troops to the nation, which has been at war for the majority of the past four decades.

"I remain open to a reduction of forces in Afghanistan if recommended by our military commanders.  Such withdrawals, however, are not part of the current strategy of our top military leader in Afghanistan - General McChrystal," Shelby said.

"I remain deeply concerned about the Afghans meeting their own security responsibilities and I firmly believe the Afghan government must do more to strengthen its police force and military presence.  We cannot, however, set arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal or accelerate an exit strategy without giving our armed forces the chance to accomplish the mission." Griffith, D-Huntsville, said more troops and equipment should flow into the war-torn nation but opposed setting a firm withdrawal date.

"Congress and the administration need to listen to our commanders on the ground and give our troops the resources they need to get the job done in Afghanistan," Griffith said. "The sooner we accomplish our mission overseas, the sooner we can bring our soldiers home. We must remain ever-vigilant on the war on terror, and Afghanistan is the central point of that."

Aderholt, R-Haleyville, called for an open-ended commitment until Taliban insurgents are rendered ineffective in the region, he said.

"I hope that the president decides to heed the advice of the generals on the ground in Afghanistan by increasing troops for the strategy proposed by his appointed leader, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

"I hope that the president doesn't set an exit timetable, as I believe this would be premature."