As Senate Democrats ramp up their calls to pull out significant numbers of troops from Afghanistan this summer, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is warning that U.S. military efforts in the country will not survive if Congress "becomes an isolationist body."
Within the next few weeks, President Obama will reveal his much-anticipated decision about how many of the 100,000 U.S. troops to start bringing home in July. The covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last month amplified calls in Congress to accelerate the drawdown, especially as the al-Qaida leader was not hiding in Afghanistan, or even Pakistan's lawless border regions. Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, a garrison town less than an hour from Pakistan's capital, by specially trained Navy SEALs who flew in across the border from Afghanistan.
Instead of scaling back the mission there, the typically hawkish Graham said the United States must expand its efforts. “Now is the time after bin Laden’s death to pour it on. We have momentum in the region."
“The signal that the president sent to the world, particularly the terrorists, was that there’s no place you can go and no period of time that can pass to escape justice," Graham said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday. "I cannot tell you how that resonated in Afghanistan. But we’re losing the momentum if we do not watch it.” While Graham said a "modest" reduction this summer is achievable, “the ticket home is to keep the model that we have in place, build upon it, and make sure the American Congress doesn’t undercut it.”
Meanwhile, nearly one-third of the Senate is calling for a “sizable and sustained reduction” of military personnel in Afghanistan. “As the strike against bin Laden demonstrated, we have the capacity to confront our terrorist enemies with a dramatically smaller footprint,” said a letter to Obama signed by 27 senators, whose names were made public on Wednesday. “The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits. It is time for the United States to shift course in Afghanistan.”
Graham called for an extended U.S. presence in the country past 2014, when the U.S. is slated to transition security control to local Afghan forces. "We should try to negotiate a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that has an enduring relationship politically, economically, and militarily," he said.
This could begin this year, he added. "We would announce at the request of the Afghan government we will be staying past 2014, that there will be four to five joint bases with American airpower with special forces components. In other words, [convey the message] 'We're not leaving Afghanistan.' The signal to the Afghan security forces would be: 'Fight hard, train hard, because you're going to have American airpower at your back as far as the eye can see.' "
Senators' desired numbers for troop drawdowns this summer run the gamut. Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., told the Financial Times he hopes this summer's drawdown will be "very small," or no more than 3,000 troops. And in one of the most ambitious targets to date, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., is calling for a reduction of 15,000 troops from the country by the end of the year.