President Obama's request for tens of billions of dollars to fund a troop surge in Afghanistan was greeted with bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill as top administration officials made their case for the ambitious strategy.
In a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the deployment was critically needed to extinguish terrorist groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan whose ultimate goal is to attack the United States.
“If anything, I think the situation is more serious today than it was a few years ago because of the attacks of the Taliban on Pakistan in Pakistan,” Gates told Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “This area that we are talking about, Afghanistan in particular, is the epicenter of global extremist jihadism. If that leadership were to disappear and al Qaeda were defeated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, you would face a serious and significantly less important threat from this region.”
Despite the case made by Obama's Cabinet, Democratic lawmakers were skeptical about the plan's high cost and chances for success given problems with corruption in the Afghan government and its notoriously weak and ineffective security forces.
“I believe the principal mission of U.S. troop increases in Afghanistan should be to accelerate the transition to Afghan forces taking the lead for providing Afghan security,” committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said. “Where I have questions is whether the rapid deployment of a large number of U.S. combat forces without an adequate number of Afghan security forces for our troops to partner with serves that mission.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports the troop increase, criticized the 2011 withdrawal timeline Obama promised when he announced the troop surge in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday.
“A withdrawal date only emboldens al Qaeda and the Taliban while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight,” McCain said.
In a tense exchange with Gates and Mullen, McCain managed to secure a promise that the administration would conduct a “thorough review of how we're doing” in December 2010 before deciding whether the 2011 withdrawal can commence in July.
Most of the opposition to the troop surge in both the House and Senate will come from the anti-war faction on the left. About half of the 258 House Democrats could vote against supplemental funding for the increase and they will be joined by a handful of Republicans.
Rep. Barbara Lee, co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus made up of more than 80 liberals, said Obama's decision to send more troops was disappointing.
“We can't continue to send more troops and expect different results,” Lee said. “Our military is already stretched too thin. Afghanistan needs a political solution not a military one. Adding more troops won't change this important fact.”