Key Democrat says Obama should speed up Afghan withdrawal

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a typically hawkish member, said he “is convinced” the Obama administration “has to accelerate” the removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Faced with mounting deficits, Dicks said, Washington simply cannot afford to spend a projected $339 billion over the next three years in Afghanistan.

Spending that amount is “not going to be realistic” given America's fiscal challenges, Dicks said at the start of the panel’s markup of 2012 defense spending legislation.

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“Are we going to take care of the people [at home] who are unemployed?” Dicks asked. “Or are we going to continue to do nation-building in Afghanistan?”

Meanwhile, the committee unanimously approved an amendment offered by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to create an independent panel of experts to examine the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation.

The make-up of the review panel would include five members of both parties, mirroring the Iraq Study Group.

The Iraq Study Group provided, as Wolf said, the fuel for a “turning point” in that conflict by providing new thinking for the Bush administration.

The panel would work with $1 million and deliver a report to lawmakers in 120 days, according to the amendment.

It would provide “fresh eyes” to “make sure we are looking at this as comprehensively as we can,” Wolf said.

Due to House rules that ban earmarks, it would be up to the Pentagon to pick the panel's members and give it a name.

Wolf said John Hamre, deputy Defense secretary during the Clinton administration, has agreed to lead the group. He now heads the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan think tank.