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Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan

In March, President Obama told CBS' "60 Minutes" that the United States must have an "exit strategy" in Afghanistan.

At least eighty-eight Members of Congress agree. They're supporting H.R. 2404, a bill introduced by Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) whose text is one sentence long: "Not later than December 31, 2009, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report outlining the United States exit strategy for United States military forces in Afghanistan participating in Operation Enduring Freedom."

Next week, Rep. McGovern is expected to try to attach this language to the 2010 military authorization bill. Today peace advocates are asking Americans to call Congress and urge that this language is enacted into law.

The Members of Congress are going a bit further than President Obama. They're saying not only that the U.S. should have an exit strategy, but that Congress and the American people should be told what it is.

It's Congress - and the American people - who have the power of the purse. This week, over the protests of progressive Democrats, Congress approved another war supplemental - paying for military escalation with no exit strategy - bringing the total spending for the war in Afghanistan to $223 billion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Americans aren't just paying for the war through their tax dollars. More than 700 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001[]. Some 56,000 U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan now, and President Obama has ordered 21,000 more soldiers to be sent there. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has acknowledged to Congress that U.S. casualties will likely rise.

Of course, the price Americans are paying for this endless war pales in comparison to the price that Afghan civilians are paying. Under the banner of liberating Afghans, we're killing them with our bombs. Brave New Films shows here the consequences of U.S. air strikes for Afghan civilians:

Earlier this year, an ABC poll reported that nearly four-fifths of Afghans say U.S. air strikes are unacceptable, while less than one in five wanted the U.S. to send more troops.

Critics of the escalating war in Afghanistan fear that we are being led into a quagmire like Vietnam. A January report from the Carnegie Foundation concluded that the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan was likely the single most important factor driving the country's insurgencies. Already the Administration's announced escalation has had the effect of uniting different insurgent groups against the U.S.

We're told that we're supporting a democratic government in Afghanistan, but when that government asks us to stop deeply unpopular air strikes and Special Forces night raids, these protests are largely dismissed. When the Afghan government asks us to support meaningful negotiations with leaders of the country's insurgencies towards a political settlement of the country's conflicts, we don't even acknowledge the request. These are among the most important issues facing the country, and we don't allow the Afghan government to have effective say. We want the people of Afghanistan to see their government as legitimate - but when it comes to key issues that we control, we don't treat the government as legitimate, so it's little wonder if Afghans follow our lead in not taking their government seriously.

When Congress tried to impose a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq through legislation, we were told "arbitrary withdrawal timetables" were unacceptable. But eventually - also under pressure from the Iraqi government - the Bush Administration agreed to a withdrawal timetable. President Obama has repeatedly re-affirmed this timetable, including in his recent speech in Cairo.

In McGovern's bill, eighty-eight Members of Congress aren't demanding a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They're simply asking to be told what the plan is for getting to the situation where there is no U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan. In announcing his new strategy and in his speech in Cairo, President Obama said that the U.S. does not want to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. But he hasn't told us what his plan is for doing something else.

One thing you almost never hear our leaders talk about is: how long are we going to be in Afghanistan? It's a forbidden topic. But occasionally something slips through: last year a British commander said the goal for handing back Kandahar air base was the year 2020.

If our government's exit strategy for Afghanistan includes 11 more years of war, don't the American people have a right to know that? If you think we do, urge your Member of Congress to support the McGovern bill. The Congressional switchboard is 202-225-3121, and you can find who represents you in Congress here.

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Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Naiman has worked as a policy analyst and researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He has masters degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of Illinois and has studied and worked in the Middle East. You can contact him here.

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