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GOP blocks debate on Afghanistan withdrawal

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More than 10 years after Congress authorized the war in Afghanistan, American voters and many lawmakers said it's time for troops to come home in an orderly withdrawal — but Republicans denied them a chance to have that debate on the House floor this week.

A bipartisan group of House members had hoped to force a vote on its plan to accelerate the removal of U.S. combat and support troops from the troubled Middle Eastern nation, but after a near-miss last year on a similar proposal, House Republicans on Thursday excluded the plan from this year's annual defense policy debate.

"They know the American people agree with us," said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. "It's a debate [Republican leaders] don't want to have, and a vote they don't want to take."

A similar drawdown proposal was narrowly defeated last year, 215-204, and since then public opinion has only solidified in favor of withdrawal.

Instead of allowing that middle-ground bipartisan approach to be voted on, the Republicans who control the chamber, and therefore write the rules for debate, set up a choice between a Democratic proposal for immediate withdrawal and the party's position — which would remove President Obama's timelines for withdrawal, keep 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2014, and allow for troops beyond that.

After a 20-minute debate, the House voted overwhelmingly to back the expanded role for U.S. troops, 303-113, with 79 Democrats joining 224 Republicans in supporting the unlimited strategy.

"The message that you send to our troops is that you are abandoning them," said Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican. The former Army lieutenant colonel, who spent two years in Afghanistan as a military contractor and argued against setting limits on the mission, said lawmakers should trust the generals on the ground.

Overall, Republicans allowed 141 amendments to be debated — far more than Democrats allowed on the defense bill when they controlled the chamber from 2007 to 2010.

In other action Thursday the House rejected an effort to block all U.S. funding for Pakistan, and also turned back an amendment that would have tied the administration's hands in its use of drones to kill terrorism suspects. That amendment would have required the U.S. have a positive identification of any drone targets before approving an attack.

The defense debate will extend into Friday.

Still to come is a major showdown on the government's authority to let the military detain terror suspects indefinitely.

"Just because the government arrests you doesn't mean you're guilty," said Mr. Smith, who challenged tea party Republicans to stand up for constitutional protections.

A federal judge Tuesday blocked part of last year's defense policy law, which granted the government broad detention powers.

Also later this week a bipartisan group of lawmakers will try to reduce the overall level of defense spending by $8 billion, bringing it in line with the numbers all sides agreed to in last year's debt deal.

Mr. Obama has already threatened to veto the House bill if it remains as is, arguing it undermines his authority to conduct international affairs and act as commander in chief.

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