Obama admin. defends announcing a withdrawal date

December 2, 2009 11:30:06 PM PST
An advanced guard of fresh U.S. troops will hit the ground in Afghanistan before Christmas. That's the word from top administration officials, who testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before a Senate hearing on Wednesday morning and before a House committee in the afternoon. They were unified in defending the president's strategy.

The president's top foreign policy and military advisors told members of Congress Afghanistan and is the epicenter of global Islamic extremism.

"The cost of failure is then grave. That is why the president's decision for an extended surge to Afghanistan of 30,000 additional forces is so important," said Adm. Mullen.

Republicans on the committee praised the surge, but criticized president's announcement that troops will begin leaving in July 2011.

"It never makes sense to tell the enemy when you're going to quit fighting in a war," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana.

"If security is job one, then I think an artificial timeline in Afghanistan is improper as well," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana.

"The President was wrong to signal our intention to begin leaving Afghanistan on an arbitrary date," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

Clinton said the president announced the withdrawal date to send a message.

"That the United States is not interested in occupying Afghanistan, we're not interested in running their country, building their nation, we are trying to give them the space and time to be able to build up sufficient forces to defend themselves," said Clinton.

And Gates said the president's withdrawal date is not an absolute.

"And as he said last night this will be based on conditions on the grounds," said Gates.

At the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed announcing a withdrawal date serves to notice to the Afghans, our allies and the American people.

"We are not going to be there forever. The president said that. The folks testifying today said that. This is not an open ended commitment," said Gibbs.

On Wednesday Senator Dianne Feinstein praised the president's plan, but Senator Barbara Boxer, D- California, supports the president but opposes the surge. In a telephone interview, ABC7 asked if she felt the war could create a rift in the Democratic Party.

"I don't really see it that way, I think most of us believe in the mission that the president laid out, we're pleased that he has an exit strategy," said Sen. Boxer.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans suggested the withdrawal date and the strategy in general was designed to give a little something to everyone.

"There's an old adage that a camel is a horse designed by committee," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona.

However, if the president did craft his Afghanistan strategy for political appeal, it didn't work. Even before he announced his plan, left-leaning Democrats -- including many of the Bay Area delegation -- told ABC7 they oppose the surge.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos says the president will need a lot of Republican votes if he wants to get funding for this surge passed because about half the Democratic members in the House will vote no.


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