House Republicans urge Obama to keep troops in Afghanistan

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About two dozen Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday sent President Obama a letter urging him to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2016. 

The letter, led by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), comes as the White House deliberates the pace of the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country and ahead of a committee hearing with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Campbell, on Thursday. 

{mosads}”While we have achieved considerable progress in Afghanistan, the nation will once again become a safe haven for terrorism if we choose to abandon our investment,” said the letter, which was signed by 22 Republicans, including five who are military veterans. 

“Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, as well as the rise of [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], continue to present persistent and multifaceted challenges to the region,” the letter said. 

Campbell said Tuesday that he believes the president should not pursue his plan to draw down to a small troop presence at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. 

“I do believe we have to provide our senior leadership options different from the current way we’re going,” Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Underscoring the continued help that Afghan forces need, the Taliban last week seized the provincial capital of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Since then, Afghan forces have been battling to retake the city, with U.S. troops advising them on the ground and providing them with close air support. 

The U.S. has dramatically reduced the amount of air support provided to Afghan forces, and officials had said recent airstrikes there were only to protect U.S. forces on the ground with Afghans. 

However, a recent bombing by U.S. forces of a Doctors Without Borders hospital has been attributed to a call for help from Afghan forces that were under attack.

“While the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces continues to improve, they still rely heavily on our training and expertise,” the Republicans’ letter said. 

Leaving 9,800 troops in the country through 2016 would be a step away from the president’s plan to end U.S. military involvement in the country by the time he leaves office. 

The current plan is to drawdown the approximately 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, close several remaining bases and pullback to an embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016. 

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee argued that doing so would “severely limit” the U.S.’s ability to conduct counterterrorism operations in the country. They also argued that the White House needed to avoid another Iraq-like scenario, where the country devolved into chaos after the drawdown of all U.S. troops in 2011. 

“We must learn from our experience in Iraq and be careful not to put the progress we have made in jeopardy. Withdrawing from a country does not mean the problem goes away,” they said.

The White House is reportedly considering a plan to leave between 3,000 to 5,000 forces in Afghanistan beyond 2016. 

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