War in Afghanistan: Osama Bin Laden's Death Spurs Debate Over Troops' Future

Calls for U.S. pullout from Afghanistan rise after terrorist leader's death.

May 3, 2011, 4:34 PM

May 4, 2011— -- Osama bin Laden's death has given new urgency to the voices calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

The goal of the war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history, has often been said by President Obama to be to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda."

Now that the organization's leader is dead, some argue that the United States should withdraw from a war that costs billions of dollars every year and has led to the deaths of more than 1,500 U.S. troops and over 8,000 Afghan civilians. Citing cost concerns, some lawmakers argue that the country should instead turn its attention more closely to domestic budget and economic issues.

"Most people I talk to say that we need to address our nation's budget deficit, and we are spending a lot of money" in Afghanistan," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. "Now that bin Laden has been executed, we must go home."

Opponents of the war also point to the fact that bin Laden was captured in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, through years of intelligence gathering and counter terrorism operations, not military might and the counter insurgency strategy employed in Afghanistan.

"Amid the worldwide celebration of bin Laden's death, we must recognize that the nature of this war does not require the placement of 100,000 troops in one country," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a leading critic of the war, wrote in an op-ed on CNN. "It was not the 100,000 troops that took out bin Laden. We can bring many of those troops home and still effectively fight terrorism around the world."

The United States is scheduled to start drawing down its troops in Afghanistan in July, but there is no definitive timeframe for a complete pullout.

Two members of the House plan to unveil a bipartisan bill this week that would require the president to submit a withdrawal plan with specific dates.

"The Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act," co-authored by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., also calls on Obama to identify when and how the United States will hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan people.

But so far, there is little indication from the administration that it plans a shift in its strategy in Afghanistan.

In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that the United States will continue to build on its strategy in the region.

"We must take this opportunity to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts," she said. "In Afghanistan, we will continue taking the fight to al Qaeda and their Taliban allies, while working to support the Afghan people as they build a stronger government and begin to take responsibility for their own security."

Republican House leader John Boehner of Ohio has also used the same argument, saying that bin Laden's capture and killing shows the United States has to continue its work in the region.

That view was shared by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"It would be a huge mistake and a catastrophic blunder to think that the killing of Osama bin Laden ends our need to help Iraq or Afghanistan," Graham said. "What we ought to do is pour it on now. We've got momentum."

Security experts warn that bin Laden's death shouldn't be taken as an end of al Qaeda itself. Though the organization's morale and fundraising skills might be diminished, the threat from it and other affiliated terror groups is far from over.

"What we have to be careful of is ... that there is a correlation made between Osama bin Laden's death and al Qaeda, because that's not the fact. And we have to continue to commit the resources, personnel, money against this threat until we are certain that it is completely dismantled," said Rick Nelson, director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House National Security Council member.

"We can't leave Afghanistan at this juncture," he said. "There is still a significant terrorist threat emanating from western Pakistan. As long as that threat exists, the United States is going to have maintain some presence in that region of the world in order to be able to respond if there is an attack."

The unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan reached a historic level late last year. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in December found that 60 percent of Americans thought the war in Afghanistan had not been worth fighting, while only 34 percent said it had.

But recent polls show that view may be shifting quickly. The number of Americans who now see a successful future in Afghanistan has spiked since bin Laden was killed Sunday, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center. In the new poll, 64 percent expect success, up from 49 percent in a December Pew poll. Nearly half of all Americans say they are more confident in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan because of bin Laden's death.

Despite the renewed confidence, nearly half -- 48 percent of Americans -- polled said U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan "as soon as possible."

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