Leaving Afghanistan

The Senate, in an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, accepted a measure written by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) calling for a continued drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan, at a “steady pace” through the end of 2014, and a close to all combat operation “at the earliest date” possible.

The news here is that Merkley got a filibuster-proof majority for that measure, for the first time, with 12 Republicans and 50 out of 51 Democrats in support (Lieberman, of course, voted no; Wyden and McCaskill didn’t vote today). The 12 Republicans included:

Brown (R-MA), Cochran (R-MS), Collins (R-ME), Corker (R-TN), Grassley (R-IA), Hoeven (R-ND), Lee (R-UT), Lugar (R-IN), Moran (R-KS), Paul (R-KY), Snowe (R-ME) Thune (R-SD), Toomey (R-PA)

Richard Lugar’s a lame duck, but also a respected member on foreign affairs issues. And even he’s throwing in the towel on Afghanistan. Here’s the full roll call.

This matters because there’s been a consistent effort of late on the part of the Pentagon to roll back the commitment to end combat operations in Afghanistan after 2014, just as there was around Iraq when the deadline approached. Gen. John Allen and other military planners envision a counter-terrorism force in Afghanistan on an almost permanent basis. The Senate resolution, which I’ll put below, is a non-binding “sense of the Congress,” but it’s a sharp stick in the eye of the generals who want to prolong the war:

(a) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that the President should, as previously announced by the President, continue to draw down United States troop levels at a steady pace through the end of 2014; and

end all regular combat operations by United States troops by not later than December 31, 2014, and take all possible steps to end such operations at the earliest date consistent with a safe and orderly draw down of United States troops in Afghanistan.

This follows on but also strengthens the President’s public comments about combat withdrawals, and makes it harder for the executive to defy the legislative branch, which has the power to cut off funding for the war. It’s as much a push back as Gen. Allen’s upcoming recommendations will be a push forward.

To get 12 Republicans to sign on here shows the bipartisan desire to just get out of Afghanistan already.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. William Tremblay/Released.