- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Sunday called President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan politically motivated, but other lawmakers expressed support for the White House.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, in an appearance on CNN on Sunday, was sharply critical of the Obama plan to bring 33,000 troops back to the U.S. by September 2012, just ahead of the November election. At that point, the remaining 70,000 troops would come home gradually over the following two years.

“I think it’s very hard to come to any other conclusion when the timeline is exactly in line with the 2012 election,” the congressman said. “The timeline is just too darn close … coincidences are one thing, but the fact that it lines up to have those troops out before the first debate of 2012 is concerning to me.”

But Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the White House plan works.

“I think the pace is appropriate,” Mr. Reed said. “It recognizes that we do have to maintain a presence there, but that presence is changing very quickly.”

In an interview on the same program, the top House Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, acknowledged that politics played a role. She said she had hoped that the Democratic base would have some influence over the president’s decisions on Afghanistan.

“And I think they have,” she said. “The president has taken out more troops than some others wanted him to.”

The troop withdrawals, announced last week, were welcomed in Afghanistan, according to President Hamid Karzai.

“The number of troops that he announced will be withdrawn this year and the rest next year is a sign that Afghanistan is taking over its own security and trying to defend its territory by its own means, so we are happy with the announcement,” Mr. Karzai told CNN in remarks broadcast on Sunday.

Mr. Reed said the focus should be on training Afghan troops to take over and secure the country.

“We are no longer, I think, talking about nation-building,” Mr. Reed explained. “We are talking about stabilization. We’re talking about creating a military force that can stabilize that country and take the lead from us and continue.”

He said it is important to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table before American troops completely withdraw from the country.

“That should be at the very top of our priorities,” Mr. Reed said. “As we shift out of a military-led presence, we have to have to strong diplomatic-led presence, and it has to be regional. It has to re-engage Taliban who are willing to reject the radical theories and come back and be partners in a government in Afghanistan.”

Sen. Jim Webb, Virginia Democrat, also on “Meet the Press,” would not comment on the pace of Mr. Obama’s planned troop withdrawal, but said he did not believe the Afghanistan mission should serve as a model for future clashes in the war on terrorism.

“I don’t believe we need a permanent presence in Afghanistan or in Iraq,” he said. “I think it’s counterproductive to what we were trying to do strategically. My concern on this is that we do have to get back to rebuilding our country and this model, per se, is not the model of the future.”

Mr. Webb said withdrawing the troops is necessary, because the United States has other operations in the Middle East to worry about.

“We, right now, are in a situation where we have to look at this in terms of our broader national security interests in addition to the nation-building questions,” he said. “We still have 45,000 troops in Iraq that are supposed to be out by the end of the year. I’m not holding my breath. We have this new situation in Libya, where the president made a unilateral decision, which I, among others, have serious problems with.”

He has an ally in Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, who last week suggested she would like to reduce funding for military operations in Afghanistan.

“I’m going to make sure we have enough funding to protect our troops and provide for what they need and to bring them home safely and orderly,” she said, “but we need to cut the funding.”

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