- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2011

The House overwhelmingly rejected a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by year’s end as Republicans and Democrats joined in embracing President Obama’s long-term war strategy.

The vote was 321-93 with one member voting “present,” a show of bipartisanship on national security and a referendum on the president’s policy after last year’s troop buildup.

“We need to stand with our commander in chief. We need to stand with our troops and complete this task,” Republican Rep. Christopher P. Gibson of New York, a freshman who did four Army combat tours in Iraq, said during the forceful debate.

A resolution expresses lawmakers’ opinions but has no legal effect. Although this one had failed previously too, the debate provided a measure of Congress’ impatience with the war in the face of increasing budget pressure and growing public opposition reflected in recent opinion polls.

A similar resolution failed in the House last March on a vote of 356-65, and both sides were closely watching Thursday’s vote to gauge the gains among the resolution’s proponents.

During Thursday’s debate, lawmakers had warned that passage of the resolution would have dire consequences in the fight against terrorism.

“Withdrawing before completing our mission would reinforce extremist propaganda that Americans are weak and unreliable allies and facilitate extremist recruiting and future attacks,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

“We do not want the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies back in charge of Afghanistan or any significant part of Afghanistan from which they could plot attacks against us as they are still trying to do in the parts of Pakistan they’re in,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress that the war is turning around and the United States is on track to begin drawing down troops in July. The timeline calls for ending U.S. and NATO combat operations by the end of 2014.

The resolution and its chief sponsors Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat; Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican; and Ron Paul, Texas Republican, argue that’s not fast enough. The resolution called for Mr. Obama to withdraw U.S. forces no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

Mr. Kucinich said the country is spending $100 billion a year on a war that could last another 10 years. “Are we willing to spend another trillion dollars on a war that doesn’t have any exit plan?” he asked.

Speaking directly to his budget-conscious colleagues, Mr. Kucinich said, “You want to cut out waste. Let’s get out of Afghanistan.”

The U.S. has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and its international partners have about 40,000.

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