Senators have asked the White House to arrive at a definite number of U.S. forces that will remain in Afghanistan after the Pentagon’s planned 2014 drawdown, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
Karen DeYoung writes that lawmakers have expressed worry the uncertainty could hurt already cloudy bilateral relations between the Obama administration and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s camp.
“The lack of clarity on this point has led to too much hedging in the region,” Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told administration officials at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.
“Afghans who may otherwise be interested in building a fledgling democracy want to know that they will not be abandoned by the United States as the Taliban claims they will be,” the committee chairman added.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told the committee the “continued navel-gazing” is affecting not only U.S. efforts in Afghanistan but also the military and the nation’s allies.
Both lawmakers indicated they would rather see President Barack Obama safeguard the integrity of Afghanistan’s presidential elections in October than focus on pursuing peace talks with the Taliban.
Announcing a provisional follow-on force structure, ahead of wrapping up a protracted bilateral security agreement, would give Afghans reassurance of continued American commitment ahead of the polls, they added.
“In our statements, (we) have to make clear that this election is the top priority,” Stephen V. Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said in his testimony.
“I think a lot of Afghans thought that reconciliation with the Taliban was our top priority. This should be our top priority. It is our top priority. We have not made that clear,” Hadley added.
James Dobbins, White House special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the committee that the president was “still reviewing his options” on the military presence.