May 11, 2011

Sen. Kerry Against Rapid Pullout

A "precipitous withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan despite the killing of Osama bin Laden would not be a viable option, U.S. Sen. John Kerry said.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a Capitol Hill hearing the killing of bin Laden may be a "game-changing opportunity," but would not justify a rapid pullout from Afghanistan, the Voice of American reported.

"I do not know of any serious policy person who believes that a unilateral precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan would somehow serve our interests or anybody's interests," Kerry was quoted as saying. "I do not believe that is a viable option."

Kerry, however, said there can be a small U.S. presence that can contain terror threats while also preparing Afghanistan ahead of the 2014 withdrawn date target.

Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, said, "The question before us is whether Afghanistan is important enough to justify the lives and massive resources that are being spent there, especially given our nation's debt crisis."

The VOA report said the Afghan effort costs the United States about $10 billion a month, or far higher than spent in fighting terrorism in places such as Yemen, where U.S. security is seen facing a greater threat than in Afghanistan.

However, defense expert Stephen Biddle with the Council on Foreign Relations said the United States has critical interests involving Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan.

"The threat emanating from places like Yemen, Djibouti or Somalia is of conventional terrorism," Biddle said. "The downstream threat associated with failure uniquely in South Asia is the potential collapse of a nuclear-armed and unstable state that is facing an internal insurgency of its own in Pakistan."

David Kilcullen, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the mission in Afghanistan is to make it stable enough to reduce the U.S. presence to a sustainable level without an unacceptable drop in security.