Majority in U.S. Senate Support Accelerated Afghanistan Transition Pace

An Afghan National Army soldier sits on his post as U.S. Marines, 2nd Batallion, 1st Marines Regiment patrol in Gamser, Helmand province, Southern Afghanistan. (ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)

A majority of U.S. senators voted Thursday (Nov. 28) to speed the pace of transitioning security and governing tasks in Afghanistan to local forces and officials.

In a bipartisan vote of 62-33, the upper chamber approved what’s called a “sense of Congress” measure offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that formally stamps Senate approval on an “accelerated transition of United States combat and military and security operations to the government of Afghanistan,” according to a Senate summary of the provision.

The “sense of Congress” measure is non-binding, meaning it lacks the force of an actual law. But it could give ammunition to proponents inside the Obama administration and in Congress who support handing control to Afghan troops and leaders faster so all U.S. and NATO forces could be withdrawn before Obama’s stated December 2014 goal.

Over a dozen GOP senators joined Democrats in supporting Merkley’s measure.

“It is time to end … the longest war in United States history,” Merkley said on the Senate floor.

Some GOP lawmakers and military officials want Obama to keep the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan through 2014, and tens of thousands there after.

Anti-war groups instantly applauded the Senate vote.

“Getting the Senate on record for ending the war is crucial right now,” Rebecca Griffin, Peace Action West’s political director, said in a statement issued shortly after the vote. “The Obama administration is beginning negotiations on a deal with the Afghan government that will determine the long-term troop presence there. Obstinate hawks inside or allied with the Pentagon are pushing for drawing the war out as long as possible. This vote further marginalizes those staunch war supporters and gives momentum to those of
us who want this war to end as soon as possible.”

“Staunch war supporters,” as Griffin calls them, will have multiple seats at the table when the Obama administration begins discussing transition and withdrawal plans in coming months. Individuals fitting that description have been successful at influencing two presidents’ Afghanistan plans for over a decade.

PAW said the Senate vote marks the first time a majority in the upper chamber have support speeding the transition pace.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett