Senators want say on keeping troops in Afghanistan

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A bipartisan group of senators opposed to keeping a U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 2014 want President Obama to give Congress a say in whether the U.S. military should stay.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a non-binding resolution Thursday that would call for a vote in Congress before a long-term troop presence is authorized in Afghanistan.

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“A decision about whether to extend a military mission in Afghanistan until 2024 is too important to be made without public debate,” Merkley said at a press conference Thursday.

The White House is trying to finish a bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which would allow U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan when combat operations officially end in late 2014.

The Obama administration is preparing to keep between 8,000 and 12,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, mostly in a training mission — if they can sign the security pact.

The administration has threatened to withdraw all U.S. troops at the end of 2014 if Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not sign the agreement, which he has refused to do until the after the country’s presidential elections in April.

The senators on Thursday’s resolution, who have previously pressed Obama on quickening the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, said that the public was on the side of a full withdrawal.

“The American people are totally in favor of this direction from every corner of this country,” Manchin said. “When you talk about bringing the troops home and stopping this absolute endless war in Afghanistan, that’s the one resonating thing that brings the crowd together.”

Other senators who support keeping the U.S. military in Afghanistan after 2014 have been angry with Karzai’s comments and actions, but they say the Obama administration should just wait for Karzai’s successor.

They argue that the U.S. should stay in Afghanistan to train the Afghan army to keep the Taliban at bay, warning that a full withdrawal will allow the Taliban to regain power.