Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., isn't seen much in public anymore. At 91, he rarely votes and almost never gives speeches. But today he dramatically appeared on the Senator floor to denounce the idea of sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
"How much more will all this cost?" Byrd demanded. "How much in dollars; how much in terms of American blood?"
Speaking slowly and forcefully from his wheelchair, Byrd directly challenged counter-insurgency strategy proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command.
"I believe they have certainly lost sight of America's primary strategic objective - - namely to disrupt and de-fang al Qaeda and protect the American people from future attack," Byrd said.
< Byrd is the longest-serving senator in American history. And to many anti-war activists he speaks with moral authority as one of the earliest and most forceful voices in the Senate against the Iraq war.
"I have become deeply concerned that in the eight years since the September 11 attacks, the reason for the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan has become lost," Byrd said, "consumed in some broader scheme of nation-building which has clouded our purpose and obscure our reasoning."
Regarding McChrystal's request for more troops, Byrd asked, "What does General McChrystal actually aim to achieve?"
Byrd's words put him at odds with another Senate Democratic old-timer, Appropriations Chairman Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
Senators at Odds Over Afghanistan"I believe Gen. McChrystal's assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan, is correct," Inouye said in a statement released late Tuesday. "This strategic approach will mean altering our military strategy to focus on counterinsurgency."
Inouye, who is a Medal of Honor winner and a long-time friend of Byrd, did not endorse a specific number of troops, but he said "appropriate resources" will be needed.