(CNSNews.com) – The death of Osama bin Laden has triggered fresh debate over whether the U.S. should accelerate its planned troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In Washington, there is strong disagreement on the issue.
The al-Qaeda terrorist may be dead, Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told a press conference on Monday, “but the war in Afghanistan goes on.”
“I've already heard a few calls that we quickly withdraw from Afghanistan because the war is over, because bin Laden is dead,” he said.
“I wish we could say that, but if we did that we would repeat a mistake that we made once before when we pulled out of Afghanistan and that region after the Soviets did, and that invited ultimately the Taliban and al-Qaeda into Afghanistan and from Afghanistan they attacked us on 9/11.”
Lieberman conceded that the killing of bin Laden “gives us increased momentum in the war in Afghanistan,” adding, “if I were [fugitive Taliban leader] Mullah Omar, I’d be frightened right now.”
President Obama has said that U.S. forces will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011 in a gradual process that will last through the end of 2014, a timeline that is not nearly short enough for some critics.
According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Obama has no plan to change the withdrawal schedule following the death of bin Laden.
“The president has a timetable to begin withdrawal out of … Afghanistan,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday. “He has indicated that he is going to stick with that. I think that’s appropriate.”
While many lawmakers in their reactions recognized the ongoing terror threat and stressed the importance of vigilance, some also used the opportunity to call for a speedy end to the Afghanistan mission.
“With bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan largely extinguished, it’s time we revisited the wisdom of continuing the war in Afghanistan,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Fellow California Democrat Rep. Mike Honda said in a statement the U.S. “must seize this moment to heal from the past harm done to our homeland and ensure that no further harm is done to our troops by bringing them home.”
“Bin Laden’s death reminds us that when tackling threats to U.S. security by actors who are increasingly agile, mobile and amorphous, a heavy military, air and navy footprint is not only ineffective in dealing with guerilla-like warfare but also financially unsustainable,” Honda added.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress site that the development strengthens the case for a significant troop pullout.
“We went there to get Osama bin Laden. And we have now gotten Osama bin Laden,” he said. “So yes, I think this does strengthen the case [for withdrawal].”
Frank acknowledged that “there are still some al-Qaeda people there,” but -- noting al-Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia -- added “there are too many places in the world for us to kind of seal.”
“Look, part of the argument against this [troop] reduction is that it was reputational, for staying in Afghanistan – ‘we can’t look like America was driven out,’ ‘we can’t go away with our tail between our legs,’ all of those metaphors. Well, we just killed Osama bin Laden, and I think that takes a lot of the pressure away, a lot of the punch away from the argument that, ‘oh, it will look like we walked away.’”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who describes himself as “the representative for Ground Zero,” said in his reaction to the news that it was time to re-examine U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
“What yesterday’s successful strike proved, in dramatic fashion, is that a relatively small and well-trained strike force is capable of taking out the world’s most wanted man,” he said in a statement.
“Why then do we need more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan? It is not clear that occupying a large country and engaging in nation-building is the best way to destroy, disrupt, or deter terrorism. The fight against terrorism will go on, but it seems clear that precision strike teams designed to take out specific targets offer a viable alternative to massive military invasions and subsequent occupations.”
‘Now is the time to win that fight’
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) cautioned against mixing up the killing of bin Laden and the war in Afghanistan.
“I get a little confused when they say they want troops pulled out of Afghanistan because we’re pursuing al-Qaeda in other parts of the world, when the Taliban is the one that’s fighting us right now, and they’re the ones that gave safe haven to al-Qaeda to operate and plan the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan,” he said during a press conference in Washington.
“I think we have to be very careful not to find these national security issues, that happen either for the positive or the negative, to define all the other things that we have to do,” Rogers said.
“Clearly this demonstrates this is a global war on terrorism, and each place will require different operations, different planning, different intelligence techniques, different military operation techniques. Right now we’re in Afghanistan. This spring offensive, it’s so critically important that we beat the Taliban back.
“Now is the time we win that fight,” he continued. “For anyone to try to mix up this [bin Laden] success with what I think will be a success in … our offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan this spring is I think making a serious mistake and jeopardizes the long-term health of our entire national security.”
Reza Jan, research analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, wrote Monday that winding down U.S. involvement in Afghanistan on the basis of bin Laden’s death “would display dangerous ignorance of al-Qaeda’s staying power.”
“Leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban on the pretext that Osama bin Laden, the ‘primary target’ of U.S. efforts in the region, has been eliminated, would provide al-Qaeda the second wind and breathing space it would need to truly reconstitute itself and regain or exceed the ability to threaten the world it possessed on 9/11,” he warned.