GOP questions Obama's Afghanistan troop withdrawal

GOP questions Obama's Afghanistan troop withdrawal
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Republicans welcomed President Obama's announcement that he will shelve his drawdown of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan but questioned why he is reducing the force at all. 

Obama said Wednesday that instead of his original plan to halve the 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, he would draw down the total by 1,400 troops.

“I welcome President Obama’s decision to reverse his previous plan to drawdown U.S. forces in Afghanistan," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainStephen Miller hits Sunday show to defend Trump against racism charges Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage MORE (R-Ariz.), who wanted to keep the force level at 9,800. 

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"That said, when the President himself describes the security situation in Afghanistan as ‘precarious,’ it is difficult to discern any strategic rationale for withdrawing 1,400 U.S. troops by the end of the year," he added.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioAna Navarro lashes out at Rubio for calling outrage over Trump's 'go back' tweet 'self righteous' US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (R-Fla.) said he was pleased with the decision, but added: "It is not clear why any drawdown is taking place when the threats to Afghanistan’s stability from the Taliban, al-Qaeda and even ISIS are only increasing." 

The president, flanked by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, announced Wednesday from the White House's Roosevelt Room that he would slow the planned troop withdrawal from 9,800 currently to 8,400 by the end of his administration, instead of down to 5,500. 

The decision was made due to an ongoing threat from the Taliban, al Qaeda and a nascent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) presence in Afghanistan. 

“The security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious,” Obama said, noting that while Afghan forces fighting the Taliban have improved, they are “not as strong as they need to be." 

Republicans are wondering why he is withdrawing any troops at all. A number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as former top administration officials and military officials, had urged the president to maintain 9,800 troops in the country. 

A senior administration official on a background conference call said the reduction of 1,400 forces "really reflects the commanders' recent assessment" and took into account the "dynamic security environment, as well as Afghan forces' capabilities and performance."

"And so capturing all of those lessons learned, we came to the decision and recommendation to maintain at 8,400," the official said. 

The officials would not say whether the reduction of forces would come from the NATO mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, or from the U.S.'s counterterrorism mission there. Currently, 7,008 U.S. troops are part of the train, advise and assist mission. 

"Ultimately, I think that the balance reflects something very similar to where we are today," said another senior administration official. "So, in other words, there’s not a shift in terms of the nature of the forces from where we are with our current levels. 

"It’s just the matter that we can reduce that by a small amount while ensuring that we’re continuing both of those missions with appropriate resourcing and effectiveness," the official added.

Officials also said cost was a consideration in making the decision.  

"Anytime we develop options like this, we obviously look very carefully and think through what the cost associated will be," an official said. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE (R-S.C.) said the 1,400-troop reduction, although seemingly "small to many," will have a negative impact on the security situation in Afghanistan, forcing U.S. troops to take on more risk

“I just returned from Afghanistan and did not sense that conditions on the ground warranted a further reduction of American troops at this time. A wise course would have been for President Obama to leave our forces intact at the 9,800 level to protect our many hard fought gains," Graham said. 

Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (R-N.H.), a close ally of McCain and Graham, said she welcomed the president's willingness to revise the drawdown but said any reduction should based on ground conditions. 

"I would like an explanation from our military leaders to fully understand the military rationale for reducing U.S. forces there by about 1,400 troops, in light of the continuing security challenges and the need to ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a launching pad for terrorist attacks against the United States,” she added. 

Obama acknowledged during his announcement that al Qaeda was trying to "regroup" in Afghanistan. 

House Republicans also blasted the president's decision to withdraw 1,400 troops as inconsistent with the threats faced. 

"We need a strategy based on objectives, not numbers," said Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.). "Our premature exit in Iraq led to the rise of ISIS — we cannot afford to make the same mistakes in Afghanistan."

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) said while 8,400 is better than 5,500, it didn't "jive with the increased strength of the Taliban," adding, "Our troop levels should always be based on the needs of the war effort."

Other House Republicans focused on the expected cost of keeping more troops in Afghanistan, noting that the president did not request funding to keep 8,400 troops there. 

"This year’s National Defense Authorization Act will provide the funding necessary to maintain a minimum level of 9,800 troops for this vital mission in Afghanistan, unlike the Administration, whose budget request fails to provide the funding necessary to support this recent announcement," Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said. 

"For all of the bluster about funding troops in harm's way, it is the President who proposes to extend the vital mission without any resources behind it," House Armed Services Committees Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said. "The White House must submit a supplemental funding request to accommodate troop levels in Afghanistan immediately.”

Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland House panel votes to restrict possible changes to Air Force One design MORE (R-Va.), the committee's readiness subpanel chairman, said U.S. troops "are already operating at full capacity without adequate resources or support." 

"Current spending levels were set based on Obama's original draw-down number, and adjustments need to be made to account for the nearly 3,000 additional troops that will remain in Afghanistan," he said. 

House Republicans face an upcoming defense spending fight with the White House. They have passed a $610 billion budget that would shift $18 billion from the budget's war fund to pay for things in the base budget, relying on the next administration to make up the shortfall in war spending in April. Democrats have slammed that move as risky. 

There was also one Democrat who voiced her disappointment with the president's decision: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the Afghanistan War's lone dissenter in Congress. 

“Today’s announcement is a step in the wrong direction and it signals that our nation’s longest war is far from over," she said. 

"Further military engagement in Afghanistan continues to put our brave servicemen and women in harm’s way and does not enhance our national security."