Democratic senators press Obama on Afghanistan pullout

Nearly half the Senate Democratic Conference, including 10 committee chairmen, sent a letter to President Obama pressing him to shift his strategy in Afghanistan and begin a major drawdown of troops.

Those 24 senators were joined by one Independent and two members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, all of them urging the president to make significant policy changes as Obama’s self-imposed July deadline for a troop drawdown approaches.

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“We write to express our strong support for a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011,” the lawmakers wrote Wednesday.

“There are those who argue that rather than reduce our forces, we should maintain a significant number of troops in order to support a lengthy counterinsurgency and nation-building effort. This is misguided,” they argued.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments On The Money: Democrats move funding bills as budget caps deal remains elusive | Companies line up to weigh in on 0B China tariffs | Trudeau to talk trade with Pelosi, McConnell MORE (Ill.) and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerEx-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Ex-state senator in North Carolina enters race against Tillis Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw MORE (N.Y.), the second- and third-ranking members of the leadership, signed the letter. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump MORE (D-Nev.) did not.

The 27 signatories include a mix of liberals and centrists as well as Republicans Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account On The Money: Democrats move funding bills as budget caps deal remains elusive | Companies line up to weigh in on 0B China tariffs | Trudeau to talk trade with Pelosi, McConnell MORE (Utah) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE (Ky.). Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, also signed on. The centrists who support it include Sens. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (La.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Senate passes bipartisan IRS modernization bill MORE (Ore.).

At a time of massive budget debts and angry partisan fights over spending cuts, Democrats senators are getting tired of spending $2 billion a week on a conflict that has shown mixed results.

That’s to say nothing of what they feel regarding the more painful cost of 1,500-plus American fatalities and nearly 12,000 service members wounded.

Sens. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE (D-N.M.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Democratic White House hopefuls push to expand health care in US territories Hillicon Valley: Assange hit with 17 more charges | Facebook removes record 2.2B fake profiles | Senate passes anti-robocall bill | Senators offer bill to help companies remove Huawei equipment MORE (D-Ore.) and Lee were the leaders behind the letter. “Within the administration they’re having a robust policy debate, and I think it’s important they know that a significant number of senators weighed in on this,” Udall told The Hill.

Udall said senators would begin “contacting all of our friends” within the administration to influence their decisionmaking process.

Lee’s leading role in the letter-writing effort and the support of Paul — two of the Senate’s most ardent conservatives — show that many Tea Party voters have come to see Afghanistan as a wasteful exercise in nation-building.

The lawmakers appeared to call for a bigger withdrawal than that advocated by Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who did not sign the letter.

Levin has recommended withdrawing 15,000 of the 100,000 American troops serving by the end of this year.

Obama announced he would begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan beginning in July but has not said how many he will draw down.

White House officials have signaled that Obama will make that decision soon and the size of the withdrawal will depend on conditions on the ground.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, asked about the letter, said White House press secretary Jay Carney has addressed the pending withdrawal decision several times in recent weeks.

Carney told reporters last week that Obama met with national security advisers to discuss the security situation and would weigh the recommendations of the secretary of defense and the chief general of international forces.

Carney said “it will be a real drawdown but it will depend on conditions on the ground.”

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recommended a modest reduction of forces, but some of the president’s national security advisers see an opportunity to dramatically scale down U.S. military involvement after the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The senators argued the nation’s military goals of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven in Afghanistan and removing the Taliban government have largely been met.

“Those original goals have been largely met and today, as CIA Director Leon Panetta noted last June, ‘I think at most, we’re looking at maybe 50 to 100, maybe less’ al Qaeda members remaining in Afghanistan,” they wrote.

“We will never be able to secure and police every town and village in Afghanistan. Nor will we be able to build Afghanistan from the ground up into a Western-style democracy,” they added.

Democrats have been under strong political pressure from Republicans to sustain and even augment the military intervention in Afghanistan.

After former President George W. Bush saw good results in Iraq after surging troop numbers, Obama was under pressure to do the same to stabilize Afghanistan. He responded in 2009 by sending an additional 30,000 troops to Kandahar, Paktika and other Afghan provinces.

But now there is wavering support for continuing an open-ended muscular military presence in the region.

Paul Kawika Martin, political director of Peace Action, a group that helped organize support for the letter, said Obama could face political repercussions in 2012 if he fails to respond.

“In 2012, voters will want to see that President Obama is ending the war in Afghanistan by quickly bringing troops home in very large numbers,” Martin said in a statement. 

Most of the Republicans hoping to challenge Obama next year are also pushing for a rapid troop withdrawal.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said at a GOP presidential debate Monday that “it’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can.”

This story was originally posted at 4 p.m. and updated at 8:25 p.m.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.