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Members Grumble Over Permanent U.S. Involvement in Afghanistan

May 3, 2012

Washington, May 3 - Two Democrats are already making the case against the Obama administration's May 2 "Strategic Partnership Agreement" with Afghanistan as an arrangement that will lead to a permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan, while a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has blasted the deal as one that placates a government headed by a "corrupt clique."

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) said on May 2 that he has "serious concerns" with the agreement because it will lead to a "permanent American involvement there."

"For years, our nation's leaders have spoken about their intention to end the American presence in Afghanistan," Braley said. "All that time, the end date has been pushed further and further down the road.

"At some point, the Afghanis need to take control of their country's own future," he added. "I believe that point is now — not two, 10 or 20 years from now. We've already been in Afghanistan for more than a decade. It's time to focus on strengthening America here at home."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who will not be returned to Congress next year after losing a primary battle to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D), also argued on Wednesday that the agreement seems to commit the United States to Afghanistan "for a long time to come.""The agreement addressed the transition to Afghan-led security forces by 2014," Kucinich said. "Human and monetary costs to the U.S. will continue to skyrocket.

"America has been lulled to sleep by the mind-boggling elongation of a war 7,000 miles away," he added. "The plain fact is we are not exiting Afghanistan, despite the appearances which the White House is trying to create. We are staying."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) also criticized the agreement, but based his complaints on the idea that the United States should not be locking in commitments to the Afghan government in its current form. Rohrabacher is one of a handful of House members who have pushed the Obama administration to ensure that the government in Kabul is more representative of people across the country, and does not coordinate with the Taliban.

"The current political structure in place is contrary to the decentralized structure of Afghanistan," Rohrabacher said. "The political leaders with whom we are allied are corrupt and have no allegiance throughout the country.

"The longer our troops stay, the more we continue to alienate the Afghans," he added. "We should pull our troops out ASAP and arm the village militias and provide financial assistance to the tribal chiefs."

The strategic agreement signed on Wednesday has so far met with little other congressional response. Other anti-war Democrats, such as Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), had not commented as of Thursday, nor had the chairmen and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not commented on it yet. Despite the criticism that the deal would extend U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the deal "moves us toward the day when all U.S. troops have been brought safely home."

The sweeping agreement is likely to draw more congressional scrutiny in the weeks and months ahead. Among other things, the nine-page document commits the United States and Afghanistan to a potentially costly bilateral relationship — most importantly, one that commits both countries to negotiate a bilateral security agreement that would replace current agreements on defense and security cooperation.

According to the agreement, the United States now formally recognizes Afghanistan as a "major non-NATO ally," which gives Afghanistan military and financial benefits such as training help and access to surplus U.S. military items.

The agreement also says that beyond 2014, the current date by which most U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan, the United States "shall seek funds, on a yearly basis, to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), so that Afghanistan can independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats."

Afghanistan agreed to give U.S. forces "access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014," but the agreement says the United States "pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries."

The United States also agreed to help strengthen Afghanistan's economy, including by promoting and supporting trade, transportation, infrastructure and agricultural development. The agreement says the United States will encourage investment by mobilizing various trade agencies, like the Export-Import Bank, and further will help the development of education and healthcare in Afghanistan.

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