Lawmakers want to suspend US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan

A trio of Senate defense hawks called on President Obama to halt troop withdrawals in Afghanistan after NATO said Monday it was suspending most joint operations between Afghan and NATO troops.

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Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) issued a joint statement Wednesday proposing a “strategic pause,” as they criticized the Obama administration’s troop levels in Afghanistan the past three years. They suggested that the rush to build up the Afghan forces is contributing to an uptick in “insider attacks.”

“In light of the tragic recent attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, we understand and respect the rationale for scaling back combined operations between coalition and Afghan troops,” the senators said. “However, we also believe this decision raises questions about the broader strategy that the Obama administration has been pursuing in this conflict, especially with respect to its timetable for drawing down our military forces in Afghanistan.”

The White House said Tuesday that the timeline in Afghan would not be changed as a result of the suspended operations, which were announced as the death toll from insider attacks in Afghanistan this year surpassed 50.

The United States is completing its drawdown of the “surge” troops from Afghanistan this month, leaving about 68,000 U.S. troops there. The Obama administration has not laid out yet how it plans to go from 68,000 to handing off security control to the Afghans at the end of 2014.

Hawks like McCain have said that the 68,000 should remain at least through the 2013 fighting season, a message the senators reiterated in their statement Wednesday.

“The president has said that the drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan would be responsive to conditions on the ground. We believe those conditions are now worrisome enough to justify an immediate suspension of further U.S. troop withdrawals at this time,” the senators said.

“The purpose of this ‘strategic pause’ should be to give our commanders time to evaluate the effects of recent troop withdrawals and to offer their best military advice on how we can achieve our goals in Afghanistan, while preventing further attacks on our forces and those of our allies,” they said.

The senators also took aim at President Obama’s overarching strategy in Afghanistan, in which he deployed a surge force of about 30,000, which was smaller than what some generals had proposed.

The senators said that the “rush to build up” the Afghan security forces so that U.S. forces could withdraw on the Obama administration’s timetable “has contributed to the problem of the so-called ‘insider attacks.’ ”

“Over the past three years, the administration has repeatedly deployed fewer forces than our commanders recommended, and is now drawing down those forces in larger numbers and at a faster pace than our commanders advised,” the lawmakers said. “Our military leaders have testified to Congress that these decisions have put our mission in Afghanistan at greater risk, and those risks are now becoming more apparent.”