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Voters Disappointed with Obama Afghanistan Drawdown

Washington, DC — June 22, 2011 — President Obama’s announcement this evening of a limited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan — America’s longest war — is bound to disappoint Members of Congress and an electorate tired of the conflict.

As has been reported, senior White House officials confirmed that the President plans to remove 10,000 troops by the end of this year and another 23,000 troops by September 2012.

“Removing a few brigades this year, then several more next year, still leaves more than double the U.S. troops in Afghanistan than when President Obama took office.  There’s no military solution in Afghanistan.  It’s time to bring all troops and contractors home and focus on the political solution, which is the only way this costly war will end,” observed 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.

The pace of troop drawdown is significantly smaller than asked for by some in Congress.  Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Arms Services Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) wanted 15,000, 30,000, and 50,000 out this year, respectfully.  Today, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) the minority chair of the Sen. Foreign Relations committee said the withdrawal was inadequate.

The President’s numbers for this year represent a small percentage of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and over 100,000 additional contractors.

Both chambers of Congress on a bipartisan basis have pushed for a sizable number of troops to leave.

Last week, a bipartisan group of 27 U.S. Senators — led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tom Udall (D-NM) — sent a letter to President Obama asking for a “sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.”  A half dozen more Senators made similar statements individually.

Last month, the House sent a clear signal to President for an accelerated withdrawal by narrowly failing to pass an amendment offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), Walter Jones (D-NC) and others to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act.  204 Representatives voted aye, including a record 26 Republicans.

Congress has been feeling voter pressure on the war.  A pew poll released yesterday showed a strong majority of Americans support bringing troops home “as soon as possible.”  Peace Action organized twenty-five national organizations, representing over 30 million voters, to sign onto a letter echoing this sentiment by asking for a “sizable and sustained” withdrawal.

With the high costs of $10 Billion a month for the war, lawmakers on Capitol Hill and locally are questioning whether the costs are making the U.S. safer.  The U.S. Conference of Mayors just approved a resolution calling for a speedy end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and redirection of scarce dollars for “urgent domestic needs.”

The war has become more deadly to U.S. troops, which has weighed heavy on lawmakers.  Over 1,600 U.S. troops have been killed in the nearly ten-year long war.  This year has surpassed 2009 as the deadliest year of the conflict, killing 57 percent more American service members.  Tens of thousands more have been wounded physically and mentally.  An unknown number, but estimated to be in the tens of thousands, of Afghan civilians have perished, and the United Nations reported that so far, 2011 is the worst year for civilians deaths.

Republican Presidential candidates like Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul are also calling 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 November 2012, voters will want to see less than 67,000 troops and even more contractors still in Afghanistan.  The President will need to speed up his plans and announce more troops coming home to please the electorate,” concluded Martin.

The President announced his first surge of 20,000 troops in spring 2009. Then started sending another 33,000 in December of that year nearly tripling the number of troops on the ground when he took office.

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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.  The Pew poll can be found here:

http://people-press.org/2011/06/21/record-number-favors-removing-u-s-troops-from-afghanistan/

2.  The 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)

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