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27 Senators and Generals Urge Large Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal

For Immediate Release:  June 15, 2011

Washington, DC — June 15, 2011 — A bipartisan group of 27 U.S. Senators sent a letter today to President Obama asking for a “sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.” 

Paul Kawika Martin, the political and policy director of Peace Action — a group founded in 1957 and the largest grassroots peace organization in the U.S. — organized twenty-five national organizations, representing over 30 million voters, to urge Senators to sign the letter.  He said, “The House spoke last month, now the Senate and the American people have long turned against the Afghanistan war. President Obama needs to announce that all U.S. troops and contractors will be out of Afghanistan well before 2014 with tens of thousands of troops coming home this year.  It’s time to focus on political negotiations and Afghan-led aid and development.”

The bipartisan letter, sent on the eve of a Presidential decision on the number of troops to come home in July, included ten committee chairs and Sen. Durbin (D-IL) — the Senate Majority Whip, the second highest position in the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate.

Other committee chairs such as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and other Senators like Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) have recently made statements for significant troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

The letter led by Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) shows a clear shift in the Senate towards bringing troops home from Afghanistan since a vote last May for former Senator Feingold’s (D-WI) amendment for a withdraw timeline garnered 18 Democrats.

A letter signed by over a dozen current and former military officials including four Generals supported the Senate letter.

Last month, the House sent a clear signal to President for an accelerated withdrawal by narrowly failing to pass an amendment to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act.  204 Representatives voted aye, including a record 26 Republicans.

The amendment was offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Walter Jones (D-NC), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-47), John Lewis (D-GA), Justin Amash (R-MI), David Cicilline (D-RI), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Peter Welch (D-VT) and would have, among other things, required plan and timeframe on accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities from the Pentagon.

The extreme cost of the war of $2 Billion a week, with long-term costs much higher, and questions whether the military strategy is actually making Americans safer are causing Congress and Republican Presidential candidates to call for a quicker end to the war.

Peace Action calls for all troops and contractors out of Afghanistan within one year with resources focused on political reconciliation and Afghan-led aid and development.

“In 2012, voters will want to see that President Obama is ending the war in Afghanistan by quickly bringing troops home in very large numbers,” concluded Martin.

The full text of the letters can be seen at:

http://peaceblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/2185/

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Founded in 1957, Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze), the United States' largest peace and disarmament organization, with over 100,000 paid members and nearly 100 chapters in 36 states, works to abolish nuclear weapons, promote government spending priorities that support human needs, encourage real security through international cooperation and human rights and support nonmilitary solutions to the conflicts with Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. The public may learn more and take action at http://www.Peace-Action.org. For more up-to-date peace insider information, follow Peace Action’s political director on Twitter. http://twitter.com/PaulKawika 

Notes: 

1.  Letter to President signed by 27 Senators

June 15, 2011

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.

In 2001 the United States rightfully and successfully intervened in Afghanistan with the goals of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven, removing the Taliban government that sheltered al Qaeda, and pursuing those who planned the September 11 attacks on the United States. Those original goals have been largely met and today, as CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last June, “I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less” al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan.

In addition, over the past few years, U.S. forces have killed or captured dozens of significant al Qaeda leaders. Then, on May 2, 2011, American Special Forces acting under your direction located and killed Osama bin Laden. The death of the founder of al Qaeda is a major blow that further weakens the terrorist organization.

From the initial authorization of military force through your most recent State of the Union speech, combating al Qaeda has always been the rationale for our military presence in Afghanistan. Given our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops.

There are those who argue that rather than reduce our forces, we should maintain a significant number of troops in order to support a lengthy counter-insurgency and nation building effort. This is misguided. We will never be able to secure and police every town and village in Afghanistan. Nor will we be able to build Afghanistan from the ground up into a Western-style democracy.

Endemic corruption in Afghanistan diverts resources intended to build roads, schools, and clinics, and some of these funds end up in the hands of the insurgents. Appointments of provincial and local officials on the basis of personal alliances and graft leads to deep mistrust by the Afghan population. While it is a laudable objective to attempt to build new civic institutions in Afghanistan, this goal does not justify the loss of American lives or the investment of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Instead of continuing to be embroiled in ancient local and regional conflicts in Afghanistan, we must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Afghanistan’s development to the Afghan people and their government. We should maintain our capacity to eliminate any new terrorist threats, continue to train the Afghan National Security Forces, and maintain our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. However, these objectives do not require the presence of over 100,000 American troops engaged in intensive combat operations.

Mr. President, according to our own intelligence officials, al Qaeda no longer has a large presence in Afghanistan, and, as the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint. The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.

We urge you to follow through on the pledge you made to the American people to begin the redeployment of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this summer, and to do so in a manner that is sizable and sustained, and includes combat troops as well as logistical and support forces.

We look forward to working with you to pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that makes our nation stronger and more secure.

Sincerely,

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND)

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL)

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

2.  Facts about the make up of the Senators that signed the letter.

Ten committee chairman are on the letter:

Stabenow (D-MI), Agriculture, Nutrition and Forrestry; Boxer (D-CA), Environment and Public Works; Conrad (D-ND);  Leahy (D-VT), Judiciary; and Harkin (D-IA), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Bingaman (D-NM), Energy and Natural Resources; Baucus (D-MT), Finance; Schumer (D-NY), Rules and Administration; Landrieu (D-LA), Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Murray (D-WA), Veterans Affairs.

Besides the chair (Kerry), the three most senior Democrats on Senate Foreign Relations Committee are on the letter: Boxer (D-CA), Menendez (D-NJ) and Cardin (D-MD)

3.  A letter from 25 organizations representing over 30 million voters urging Senators to sign Merkely-Lee-Udall letter:

We, the undersigned 25 organizations representing over 30 million voters, strongly urge Senator Feinstein to join 27 other Senators and sign this bipartisan letter to President Obama urging a "sizeable and sustained" reduction in forces from Afghanistan beginning in July.

While many of us are calling for a more accelerated transition and may not agree with every word of the letter, it represents a step in the right direction. It is clearly time to begin the process terminating the United States military engagement from the war in Afghanistan. 

Sincerely,

 

Matthew Hoh

Director

Afghanistan Study Group

 

Karen Showalter

Executive Director

Americans for Informed Democracy

 

Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey

Co-Directors

Campaign for America's Future

 

William C. Goodfellow

Executive Director

Center for International Policy

 

Don Kraus

Chief Executive Officer

Citizens for Global Solutions

 

John Isaacs

Executive Director

Council for a Livable World

 

Michael Kieschnick

President

CREDO Action

 

Robert Naiman

Policy Director

Just Foreign Policy

 

Justin Ruben

Executive Director

MoveOn.org Political Action

 

Jenefer Ellingston

Delegate

National Green Party

 

Simone Campbell

Executive Director

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

 

Terry O'Neill

President

National Organization for Women

 

Jo Comerford

Executive Director

National Priorities Project

 

Dave Robinson

Executive Director 

Pax Christi USA

 

Paul Kawika Martin

Policy and Political Director

Peace Action

 

Peter Wilk, MD

Executive Director

Physicians for Social Responsibility

 

Jean Stokan

Director

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas -- Institute Justice Team

 

Mark C. Johnson, Ph.D.

Executive Director

The Fellowship of Reconciliation

 

James E. Winkler, General Secretary

General Board of Church and Society

The United Methodist Church

 

Lisa Schirch, PhD

Director

3D Security Initiative

 

Marylia Kelley

Executive Director

Tri-Valley CAREs

 

Jeff Blum

Executive Director

USAction

 

Michael Eisenscher

National Coordinator

U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)

 

Stephen Miles

Coalition Coordinator

Win Without War

 

Susan Shaer

Executive Director

Women's Action for New Directions

 

3.  A letter from military officials supporting the Merkely-Lee-Udall letter

 

June 2, 2011

 

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

As former military officers and defense officials, we endorse the Senate letter to the Administration to order a "sizeable and sustained" reduction in troop levels in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011. 

 

We agree that the United States has successfully deployed its military and intelligence assets to accomplish our stated mission of destroying al Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan and degrading the leadership by killing or capturing dozens of significant al Qaeda leaders, culminating in the operation that eliminated Osama bin Laden.

 

Furthermore, we do not believe it is a top national security interest of our country to utilize our military forces to undertake nation-building activities in an internal Afghan conflict that stretches back to the 1970s.

 

We congratulate you on the successes achieved by our forces, and urge you to begin a substantial and responsible redeployment of our forces this summer.

 

Sincerely,

 

Evelyn Foote, Brig Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.)

Robert G. Gard, Jr., Lt. Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.)

Sam Gardiner, Colonel, USAF (Ret.)

Matthew Hoh, U. S. Marine Corps (Iraq), State Department Officer, (Afghanistan)

John H. Johns, Brig. Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.)

Lawrence J. Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Captain, U.S. Navy Reserves (Ret.)

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.)

Paul R. Pillar, Former U.S. Intelligence Officer

James M. Thompson, Lt. Gen., U.S. Army (Ret.)

Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Ann Wright, Colonel, U.S. Army Reserves