By Carlo Muñoz - 12/12/12 12:08 AM EST
A top Senate Democrat on Tuesday dismissed warnings that Afghanistan is headed for the same sectarian violence and economic problems that followed the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who has been floated as a potential secretary of Defense in President Obama’s second term, said people shouldn’t read too much into a recent Pentagon report that painted a bleak outlook for the end of the decade-long Afghanistan war.
"I think you have to be careful about [comparing] apples and oranges," Reed told The Hill.
The comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan are “interesting,” he said, but fail to take into account the stark differences between the countries and the conflicts.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Washington’s decision to virtually abandon Iraq without any residual U.S. presence to support the country’s security forces resulted in rampant violence and bloodshed.
“That ended up being a mistake,” Lieberman told The Hill. “We don’t want Afghanistan to suffer the same way.”
But Reed noted that botched withdrawal from Iraq was set in motion by the Bush administration, and said President Obama is intent on not making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.
More than 32,000 U.S. troops surged into Afghanistan in 2009 have already been withdrawn from the country. Gen. John Allen, head of all American forces in Afghanistan, is set to turn his recommendations for the drawdown of the remaining 68,000 American personnel in country to the Obama administration within weeks.
Amid those efforts, a recent DOD report sent to Congress on Monday showed that Taliban violence in Afghanistan spiked dramatically in the three years since the Obama administration's 2009 troop surge.
Pentagon officials who drafted the report admitted on Monday that out of the 20 or so Afghan army brigades trained and equipped by U.S. and NATO forces, only one is able operate completely independent of U.S. support.
"It doesn't surprise me," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in response to the report's findings.
"I am very concerned, because all we do is tell everybody in the region that we are leaving," McCain told reporters on Tuesday. "They believe we are leaving and they are acting accordingly."
McCain reiterated his stance that the White House should keep all remaining U.S. troops in country up until the 2014 deadline. "The military [is] recommending we keep the 68,000 in until the actual [withdrawal] date," he said.
However, the Arizona Republican said the White House has indicated that officials would like to cut the Afghanistan forces in half — and sooner rather than later.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the escalating violence in Afghanistan was expected, noting that in the waning days of the war, "The enemy is fighting [back] and we don't expect this thing to end without a fight."
As a result, Taliban leaders have issued a call to their forces to remain in Afghanistan and continue fighting through the winter months, a DOD official told reporters Monday at the Pentagon.
The terror group's leaders and fighters traditionally return to their havens in Pakistan and elsewhere during the traditional winter lull between fighting seasons, the official said. There is no intelligence showing that rank-and-file Taliban members have heeded their commanders' call to remain in position and keep fighting into the New Year, the DOD official added.
However, "the moment we announce . . . that we are not going to abandon the place [in 2014] all that changes," Graham said of DOD's recent assessment of the Afghan war
"2014 is going to come and go and [the United States] is going to have 15,000 or 20,000 troops here for a long time to come," Graham said. "That will be the end of the Taliban's hopes of reemerging militarily."
But the South Carolina Republican raised the specter of post-war Iraq in arguing for an extended U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
"We [must] learn from Iraq. Iraq is falling apart. Political progress has stopped [and] al Qaeda is beginning to remerge. What you see in Iraq is going to happen in Afghanistan if we do not have a [large] post-2014 presence."