Pelosi: Lawmakers could bring troops home faster

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday knocked the Obama administration’s strategy for an Afghanistan withdrawal, but also suggested Congress could take steps to bring more troops home much sooner.

“Many of us would like to see this go faster than the path that was laid out. However, it may [go faster],” Pelosi volunteered during a Capitol Hill press conference dominated by budget issues.

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“With the proper progress — whether it’s on the civilian side, on the governance side, on the anti-corruption side — it may well be that we can have a quicker drawdown.”

In a speech to the nation Wednesday night, Obama announced plans to pull 10,000 of the roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan out of the country by the end of this year, and 23,000 more out by September 2012. The U.S. would transfer full control of the security operations to Afghan authorities in 2014, Obama said.

“America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home,” he said. While Pelosi and other liberal Democrats wanted more from the president, his timeline ran counter to suggestions from some top military officials. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen told a House panel Thursday that Obama’s withdrawal plan is “more aggressive” than he initially wanted.

“In a counterinsurgency, firepower is manpower,” Mullen told the House Armed Services Committee. “The president’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.”

During a visit to Fort Drum, N.Y., on Thursday, Obama warned U.S. troops that “there’s still fighting to be done.”

“Our job is not finished,” Obama said. “We’re only bringing out 10,000 by the end of this year.”

Pelosi did commend the president for laying out an exit strategy almost 10 years after U.S. troops entered Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In a jab at former President George W. Bush, she said Obama’s approach to the conflict has been a welcome departure from the one he inherited.

“For seven years, we had no progress,” she said. “President Obama came in [and] instituted a plan.”

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Still, Pelosi is hardly enthusiastic about the withdrawal timeline, instead holding out hope that Congress can bring the troops home earlier than Obama outlined.

“The president, for his reasons, has the timetable he has. I respect that,” she said. “I think it also accommodates the quicker progress that we all have to work for.”

Other Democrats weren’t so gentle.

“I respect the president a great deal, but when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, he is simply pursuing the wrong mission,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said. “By the end of 2012, the president proposes to have more than twice as many troops in Afghanistan as when he first entered office. That unacceptably puts our troops at risk and forces America to borrow billions of dollars every month to pay for this war.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) echoed that criticism.

“The whole premise of this war is wrong,” Nadler said. “We should withdraw our troops now — all of them — as fast as humanly possible.”

— This story was updated at 8:37 p.m.

John T. Bennett and Sam Youngman contributed.