WASHINGTON- A House resolution calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by year's end was met Thursday with warnings that an early departure would disrupt the fight against terrorism.
"It would undermine the efforts of our military and our international partners in Afghanistan and gravely harm our nation's security," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She said it "would pave the way for the next 9/11."
Earlier in the week the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan echoed that warning, saying passage of the resolution would be hailed by the Taliban and al-Qaida as a victory.
A resolution expresses lawmakers' opinion but has no legal effect. Although this one has failed in the past and was almost certain to fail again, the debate provides a measure of Congress' impatience with the war in the face of increasing budget pressure.
The resolution calls for President Barack Obama to withdraw U.S. forces no later than Dec. 31, 2011.
Army Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that the war is turning around and the United States is on track to begin drawing down troops in July. The timeline calls for ending U.S. and NATO combat operations by the end of 2014.
The resolution and its chief sponsors - Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Ron Paul, R-Texas - argue that's not fast enough.
Kucinich, at the opening of the debate, said the country is spending $100 billion a year on a war that could last another 10 years. "Are we willing to spend another trillion dollars on a war that doesn't have any exit plan?" he asked.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Petraeus called the resolution a mistake that would do serious harm to U.S. national security interests, the coalition of 48 countries contributing military personnel and U.S. forces.
"The Taliban and al-Qaida obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success," Petraeus said. "Needless to say, it would completely undermine everything that our troopers have fought so much for and sacrificed so much for."
The U.S. has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and its international partners have about 40,000.
"This would close the door on the very, very hard-fought effort, and a mission that I think is seeking to achieve a very, very important security objective of our country as well as of our allies," Petraeus said.
Kucinich said the nation's soaring budget deficit requires significant savings and the U.S. should not waste its money on a corrupt government in Kabul.
"Afghanistan is not going to be conquered and we have to understand that the weight of history has been against our efforts from the start," he added in a statement on his website.
A similar resolution failed in the House last March on a vote of 356-65. Lawmakers on both sides of the issue will be watching the vote total closely to see if the opposition gains support.
The resolution comes after Petraeus spent two days testifying on Capitol Hill, seeking to build political support for the costly war that has dragged on for nearly 10 years. A Washington Post-ABC News poll out this week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war is not worth fighting.
Petraeus said Wednesday the initial wave of troop withdrawals in July will probably include combat as well as non-combat forces. He mentioned no numbers, nor did he identify which combat units might be pulled out to begin what Obama has called a responsible winding down of the war by 2014.
"I am still formulating the options that I will provide to the president and the recommendation that I make," Petraeus said. "But I do believe there will be some combat forces included in those options and in that recommendation."
It is widely expected that a large share - if not the majority - of those initial American withdrawals will be support forces, such as logistics specialists who helped in last year's U.S. troop buildup. Petraeus has said he foresees a tough combat season ahead this spring and summer.
The general said that in formulating his recommendation to Obama he will take into account several factors, including the capabilities of Afghan security forces, progress in improving the Afghan government's ability to deliver basic services, and the extent to which ordinary Afghans see their government as legitimate.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)