By John T. Bennett - 03/17/11 01:54 AM EDT
House Democrats on Wednesday raised concerns about the cost and length of the Afghanistan war, while one senior Republican said the Obama administration is rushing for the exits.
Gripes from both sides were the latest signs that Washington's fiscal woes could soon bleed into war-policy debates.
The House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat called the Afghanistan war’s cost too large for American forces to remain engaged with no clear endpoint.
The costs of the war have been “high — in terms of both lives and dollars,” Smith said, calling current war plans “unsustainable.”
For those reasons, Washington should “withdraw and draw down” American forces “as soon as we responsibly can,” he said.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said it remains unclear “what success looks like.” It is not inconceivable that the American military could still be in Afghanistan in 2019, Sanchez added.
The Congressional Research Service has estimated that the Pentagon spent almost $350 billion on the Afghanistan conflict through fiscal 2010.
Republican panel members did not raise concerns about the war’s price tag, nor its impact on the nation’s economic outlook.
Panel Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he wants to “understand what resources are required to reinforce the positive trends of 2010.”
GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas sees an administration preparing to cut bait.
Defense officials “are putting a silver lining on a dark cloud of the July deadline,” Thornberry said. He added he has determined the Obama administration is planning to leave Afghanistan this summer. Thornberry did not elaborate on what led him to that conclusion.
Echoing his GOP colleagues on the Senate Armed Services panel, Thornberry said the 2011 and 2014 dates “undercut” the U.S. mission there and confuse Afghan officials.
The Senate panel heard from Petraeus and Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy, on Tuesday.
The DOD officials said the 2011 partial withdrawal plan has created a “sense of urgency” among Afghan officials to “take ownership” of security there.
McKeon questioned why President Obama "keeps talking up the July 2011 withdrawal date" despite a new 2014 goal.
He also asked Petraeus how many U.S. troops will be removed from Afghanistan in July.
Petraeus replied that he has not yet determined the number of troops he will recommend to Obama can be withdrawn.
"I do believe there will be some combat forces in that recommendation," Petraeus told McKeon.
For their part, Petraeus and Flournoy attempted to throw cold water on Thornberry's concerns of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal.
Flournoy acknowledged the Democratic lawmakers’ growing concerns about the war’s massive price.
But leaving now would bring “even greater costs” by potentially allowing al Qaeda to re-establish a foothold to plan attacks and train operatives from inside Afghanistan, Flournoy said.
Several GOP members asked questions that allowed the duo to essentially repeat that message.
At several points throughout the hearing, Flournoy and Petraeus invoked U.S. servicemen and -women, saying that denying al Qaeda a safe haven is why they continue to fight there.