The U.S. Senate has voted overwhelmingly for an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan while the Pentagon continues to ignore the desires of a war-weary nation by calling for an extension of the Obama administration's current timetable.
Thursday's bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to the President as he and his military chiefs "engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 66,000 US troops there" in advance of a White House announcement expected within weeks, AP reports.
The vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defense policy bill that endorsed the current timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.
"It is time to end this war, end the longest war in United States history,'' said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the chief sponsor of the measure.
As the senators engaged in the significant albeit symbolic vote, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continued his assertion that the U.S. needs to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 citing a still dangerous al-Qaeda presence in the country.
"The goal here is an enduring presence therefore that will direct itself toward three important missions. One is obviously counterterrorism to insure that we continue to go after whatever al-Qaida targets remain in Afghanistan," Panetta told reporters at a news conference.
Panetta would not say how many American troops he thinks will be needed to conduct that mission, nor did he mention a time period.
According to Al Jazeera, the other two post-2014 missions cited by Panetta are training Afghan security forces and providing support for the US military contingent there.
The Senate hopes to wrap up its version of the bill by the end of the week before going through negotiations with the House legislation which was passed in May.
The overall defense bill authorizes $631 billion for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The White House threatened to veto the legislation in its current form, citing limits on the president's authority in handling detainees at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restrictions on cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
The Senate also revisited last year's debate on the handling of terror suspects. According to AP, lawmakers voted 54-41 to approve an amendment that would prevent the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to prisons in the United States.