The Cable

Progressives call for Afghanistan withdrawal following bin Laden’s death

The United States can now start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan because Osama bin Laden is dead, top progressive lawmakers wrote to President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

"In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, now is the time to shift toward the swift, safe, and responsible withdrawal of U.S. troops and military contractors from Afghanistan," wrote several leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (DFL-MN), and caucus leaders Mike Honda (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

The letter is a follow up to a March 16 letter signed by 81 lawmakers that urged Obama to make the planned July 2011 troop draw down in Afghanistan "significant and sizable."

"Our nation's economic and national security interests are not served by a policy of open-ended war in Afghanistan," that letter stated. "A significant redeployment of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 will send a clear signal that the United States does not seek a permanent presence in Afghanistan."

The administration is now debating internally whether to pull a large number of troops out of Afghanistan this summer, or to withdraw only a small amount as a symbolic gesture.

The United States is also in the middle of negotiations with the Afghan government over a strategic partnership agreement that would determine the future of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan up to and after 2014, when the full handover of security responsibilities is set to occur.

But now, with bin Laden having been found and killed in Pakistan, the calls in Congress for a more precipitous drawdown are increasing.

The progressives in the House have an unlikely ally in the other chamber -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Lugar said that, "with al Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints."

SFRC began a series of hearings on Tuesday on the future of the missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Afghanistan over the years has evolved from a war of necessity to a war of choice. Afghanistan no longer represents a significant global terrorist threat, and certainly no more than several other countries in the region, most notably Pakistan. Afghanistan is a strategic distraction, pure and simple," testified Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"These hearings are especially timely, given the killing of Osama Bin Laden," Lugar said.

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