As President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai prepare for a Jan. 11 meeting on Afghanistan's future, debate is intensifying about the numbers of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after the projected withdrawal of most U.S. troops by the end of 2014.
Though U.S. troop levels exceeded 100,000 after the 2009 surge, post-surge withdrawals have lowered the level to about 68,000. Over 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died as a result of more than 11 years of the war, and more than 18,000 have been injured. Many thousands of Afghan civilians have also died or been injured.
While some military leaders are urging that as many as 15,000 to 20,000 troops should remain, the administration is reportedly considering a level of 3,000 to 9,000, and this week, White House spokespersons have mentioned the possibility of a "zero option."
Recent public opinion polls continue to show a strong majority of Americans favoring an end to the war, and that call has been echoed in Congress. A March 2012 letter calling for troop withdrawal was signed by 24 senators. In September, U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Walter Jones, R-N.C., initiated a letter that garnered nearly 100 signatures of House members.
Speaking on Pacifica radio station KPFA's morning Up Front program earlier this week, Rep. Lee called for an expedited withdrawal. "First, I want to see the deadline pushed up," she told listeners. "2014 is way too far out. So many of our young men and women are exposed, once again, to be killed and hurt. There's no reason to be there. We need to begin to expedite this process of withdrawal."
Lee said she will soon reintroduce the amendment she has repeatedly proposed during the appropriations process, to end funds for combat operations in Afghanistan and limit funding to what's needed for an "orderly and safe" withdrawal of all U.S. troops and contractors.
She called for intensified diplomatic and development efforts, and expressed the hope that a political solution can result in a more stable region where all parties living there, including women, can have a viable role in developing the country in a peaceful and secure way.
In a Jan. 9 op-ed in Roll Call, the California congresswoman linked ending the Afghanistan war and making major cuts in military spending with resolving the country's fiscal crisis: "Most Americans realize that instead of spending billions of dollars extending our military presence in Afghanistan, we need to commit to a political settlement, bring all of our troops safely home and invest in jobs as well as nation-building here at home."
She urged investing instead in fixing "our crumbling roads, our aging water systems and our struggling schools," and called the last decade's combination of soaring Pentagon spending and tax cuts for the wealthy "an unprecedented and disastrous policy course that led directly to the debt problem we have today."
In other congressional actions in recent years, Rep. Jim McGovern's bill to require the Defense Secretary to present a strategy for exiting Afghanistan, first presented in 2009, drew increasing support in the House until it nearly passed, 204-215, in May 2011. In March of that year, a measure by Reps. Dennis Kuchinich, D-Ohio and Walter Jones, R-N.C., gained 93 co-sponsors.