Senators wary of Afghan troop drawdown

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday voiced serious doubts over the Obama administration’s plan to withdraw military troops from Afghanistan.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said during a panel hearing that we he was concerned when President Obama announced the number of U.S. troops would be reduced to an embassy contingent by 2016. “I still have those concerns,” he said.

Menendez cited the ongoing violence roiling through large portions of Iraq, saying “it is hard not to draw comparisons” between the two countries.

“Afghanistan is not Iraq, but it is hard not to draw comparisons to today's security situation in Iraq and what we could see in the coming years as we wind down our presence in Afghanistan,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to guard against letting history repeat itself because of decisions we make – or actions we fail to take.”

Obama last month announced that U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which now number more than 30,000, would be reduced to 9,800 by the end of December after America wraps up its combat mission in the country. The remaining force would be cut in half by the close of 2015 and reduced to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016.

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the panel’s top Republican, called the president’s speech a “statement for domestic consumption.”

He added that he was worried that the White House’s timeline was “rhetorical” and “not based in reality.”

Ambassador James Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told lawmakers that the president’s timeline “can provide enough time” for Afghan security forces to develop capabilities, such as air support, they will need to stabilize the country.

He added that the country’s long-term security depends on several factors, including the outcome of the recent presidential election, noting Afghanistan does not have a record of “good losers.”

Menendez said the announced timeframe could embolden insurgents to “simply wait out U.S. forces.” He credited Afghan security forces for overseeing a relatively peaceful election but added that “there is a difference between that and a full frontal attack.”

Kelly Magsamen, the Defense Department’s acting assistant secretary for Arian and Pacific security affairs, stressed that the U.S. would still have a “security cooperation office” in the embassy in Kabul and that it would be “tailored” to meet the government’s security needs.

"We're not going to disappear in 2017," Dobbins noted.