House rejects call to leave Afghanistan in 2011

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:48 PM

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a call for all U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan this year, endorsing more time for President Obama's surge strategy to work despite waning public support for the war.

Ninety-three lawmakers, most of them Democrats, voted for the pullout resolution that was written by mavericks in both parties, while 321 voted against it. Only eight members of the House Republican majority, which has generally backed Obama's strategy on Afghanistan, voted for the withdrawal.

But the vote showed an increase in sentiment for a quick pullout over a year ago, when a similar resolution got just 65 votes in the House. U.S. public support has waned for the nine-year-old war against Taliban insurgents.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now think the war, which began after the September 11, 2001, attacks, is not worth fighting, a Washington Post/ABC News poll said this week. The conflict has killed 1,500 U.S. soldiers and now costs over $100 billion a year.

General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, gave an optimistic assessment of the war to lawmakers earlier this week, saying Obama's decision to deploy an extra 30,000 troops had facilitated the capture of key territory from the Taliban.

Obama has promised to start bringing home U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who now number nearly 100,000, in July. But only a small drawdown is expected following a year in which violence hit its highest level since the war began in 2001.

Lawmakers who want the U.S. to get out said that al Qaeda, which carried out the attacks on the United States, had largely left Afghanistan, and argued that the U.S. presence there simply fueled more insurgency.

"For how long are we going to continue to dedicate hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives before we realize we can't win Afghanistan militarily?" demanded one of the sponsors, Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich.

But other lawmakers said they were not ready to pull the plug on Afghanistan.

Representative Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the foreign affairs committee, said he would not support a call for full withdrawal until Obama's strategy had been given "at least through the spring - to show results."

(Editing by Jackie Frank)