President Obama will begin drawing down some of the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in July, with all combat forces due out by 2014. But that timetable is unacceptable to a growing number of war-weary lawmakers, who argue that the death of the al Qaeda leader is an opportunity for the United States to recalibrate its strategy.
“The successful mission that located and killed Osama bin Laden has raised many questions about the effectiveness of America’s strategy to combat terrorism through a now 10-year-old nation-building effort in a deeply corrupt Afghanistan, especially in light of the serious fiscal challenges we face at home,” Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, wrote in a letter to colleagues on Wednesday.
They said it would be more effective to use “a targeted, worldwide counter-terrorism strategy similar to the intelligence and special operations mission that located and killed bin Laden in Pakistan earlier this month.”
Mr. Chaffetz and Mr. Welch planned to offer an amendment to the defense bill for withdrawing ground troops from Afghanistan. A group of eight Republicans and Democrats were pushing another measure to accelerate the transition from U.S. to Afghan control of operations.
While the amendments were unlikely to pass, the votes expected Wednesday were certain to provide a measure of the congressional opposition to the war — numbers that won’t go unnoticed at the Pentagon and White House.
For a second day, the House debated the broad, $690 billion defense blueprint that would provide a 1.6 percent increase in military pay; fund an array of aircraft, ships and submarines; slightly increase health care fees for working-age retirees; and meet the Pentagon’s request for $119 billion to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
House Republican leaders hope to finish the bill on Thursday but first must plow through 152 amendments, several to eliminate disputed items in the bill that have drawn the threat of a presidential veto.
Provisions in the bill would limit Mr. Obama’s authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries. The bill also bars transfer of detainees to facilities in the United States, even for trial.
The administration said the bill’s provision “is a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests.”
The administration also opposes language in the bill revising the authorization to use military force established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Republican proponents say the provision mirrors what the Obama administration has spelled out as its justification for prosecuting various terrorist cases. Critics say it would give the president unlimited authority not only to detain terror suspects and prosecute them in military tribunals, but also to go to war.
“This authorization goes on forever,” said Rep. John Garamendi, California Democrat. “We should never allow any president to have that unlimited opportunity to wage war.”
The bill also includes a provision that would prohibit providing money to the administration for removing nuclear weapons from operation unless it reports to Congress on how it plans to modernize the remaining arsenal. The bill also says the president may not change the target list or move weapons out of Europe until he reports to Congress.
Last December, the Senate ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed by Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010. The pact would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also established a system for weapons inspections.
The administration said it objected to the bill’s onerous conditions on its ability to implement the treaty. The White House also said the legislation “raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the president’s authority as commander in chief to set nuclear employment policy — a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties.”