WASHINGTON — As the White House negotiates a U.S. presence in Afghanistan after the last combat troops withdraw this year, a group of bipartisan senators pushed Thursday for congressional approval for any military action in the war-torn nation after 2014.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Mike Lee, R-Utah and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the American people support bringing troops’ home from Afghanistan and the public should have a say in the role the U.S. takes in the future.
The senators unveiled their resolution at a news conference, saying it would require President Barack Obama to get consent from Congress before taking any further military action in Afghanistan.
“I believe that we need to come together and have a conversation about where we go forward from now in Afghanistan,” Merkley said. “Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it isn’t the right approach when it comes to war.”
During his State of the Union address last month, Obama said after 2014 a “small force of Americans” could remain in Afghanistan, if the Afghan government signs the bilateral security agreement the U.S. and its NATO allies have negotiated.
After more than 12 years of war, the outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement that would allow U.S. military trainers and counterterrorism forces to remain in the war-torn country after combat troops leave by Dec. 31. The proposed deal potentially could keep an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan until the year 2024.
The White House is increasingly pressuring Karzai to approve the agreement. When asked why it cannot wait until Karzai is set to leave office in April, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday “it needs to be signed in a matter of weeks, at most, not months.”
Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for failing to achieve a similar long-term deal in Iraq, where al-Qaida forces have surged since American forces completed withdrawal in 2011.
Lee said the intention of the Senate resolution is not to take a position on proposals to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but is rather a bid to get Congress involved in any such debate.
Manchin strongly opposed continued presence in Afghanistan, saying the resources spent there could be better spent at home. The U.S. “does not have an ally” in Karzai, he said, and the American people should decide how the resources now committed to Afghanistan should be used in the future.
“This resolution will hopefully send a loud message to Karzai,” Manchin said. “The voices of the American people are getting louder and louder.”
However, the senators said the potential election of a more cooperative president in April would not change their support of the resolution.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is also supporting an Afghanistan resolution, but he did not attend the Thursday news conference. The same group of senators, ranging from the tea party Republicans to the liberal Merkley, introduced their resolution as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill in November, but it never came to vote.
Laura Magnuson, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, said Obama “continues to consider options for a post-2014 U.S. presence in Afghanistan and has not made any decisions. We regularly engage Congress on matters related to Afghanistan and will continue to do.”