Senators to Obama: Get approval before keeping troops in Afghanistan

Two U.S. soldiers walk at the site of a suicide attack On the Kabul Jalalabad road, in Kabul on December 27, 2013. Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of senators wants President Barack Obama to seek approval from Congress if he wants to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan after this year.

Leading the charge are Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; and Rand Paul, R-Ky. They introduced a resolution Thursday that would require authorization from Congress before Mr. Obama could commit any American troops to Afghanistan after 2014. Combat forces are  scheduled to come home by the end of the year, and remaining troops would shift to an advisory role.

"The American people deserve a voice in decisions of war and peace," Merkley said. "Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn't the right approach when it comes to war."

   The White House and the Pentagon are mulling how to wind down the war that has dragged on for more than 12 years. The bilateral security agreement being negotiated with Afghan President Hamid Karzai could keep some U.S. troops on the ground until 2024. A competing proposal would maintain a residual force for two more years. One plan would pull out the U.S. contingency altogether by 2015.

Mr. Obama and his military advisors "should bring their proposal to Congress so that it can be fully vetted, debated, discussed and approved or disapproved ultimately by the elected representatives of the American people," Lee said.

Even Karzai has consulted with tribal leaders as he tries to forge a way forward, Merkley noted.

The resolution does not judge the merits of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the senators insisted, but rather is meant to give Americans a voice in the costly process of sending American soldiers to war.

Public support for the war first started in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has fallen drastically in recent years. Only 17 percent of Americans say they approve the war, according to a CNN poll released in December. A vast majority of Americans want the troops out before the end of the year.

Manchin is in that majority. He declared the mission "completed" and said it's time for the troops in Afghanistan to come home. Those valuable resources could be spent in the United States, he said.

"If you help us in West Virginia build a bridge or a road ... we won't blow it up," Manchin said. "We'll be very appreciative. If you're going to invest, invest here, where you'll know you'll get a return on it."

The group of lawmakers backing the resolution stretches across the ideological spectrum. Lee is a tea party firebrand, Manchin is a conservative Democrat, Paul is a libertarian who opposes foreign intervention and Merkley is one of the more liberal members of the Senate. The coalition confirms a longstanding sentiment in Congress that presidents should not have unilateral, unchecked power to deploy troops.

Last summer, Mr. Obama faced a stiff rebuke from lawmakers when he asked them to approve airstrikes on Syria after a chemical attack killed nearly 1,500 civilians. The proposal, which was poised to fail in the House and faced an uphill climb in the Senate, was called off when a diplomatic solution was reached.

Merkley, Manchin and Lee introduced a similar resolution last year that never received a vote.

  • Marshall Cohen

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