December 2nd, 2009
05:00 PM ET
7 months ago

Senate committee questions July 2011 Afghan withdrawal date


Washington (CNN) – Lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill sharply criticized President Obama's plan to start a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011.

Critics argued the president was inconsistently setting an "arbitrary" deadline while also claiming any transfer of responsibility to the Afghan government ultimately will be based on conditions on the ground in that country.

Obama's blueprint faced questions Wednesday as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Announcing a firm date for starting an American withdrawal while also saying such a withdrawal depends on conditions on the ground "are two incompatible statements," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's ranking Republican.

"You either have a winning strategy ... and then once it's succeeded, then we withdraw or, as the president said, we will have a date [for] beginning withdrawal in July 2011. Which is it? It's got to be one or the other. It's got to be the appropriate conditions, or it's got to be an arbitrary date. You can't have both."

Full story

Updated: 5: 00 p.m.


Filed under: Afghanistan • President Obama • Senate
soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. Jeff in DC

    McCain needs to chill out. I don't think the timeline really hurts the military strategy. Even if the Taliban lay low until 2011, that's still a victory because it gives more time to focus on training up the Afghan forces. Besides that, Taliban still have to fight if they want to keep control of the remote/tribal regions, and 30,000 more troops is gonna make it a lot harder for them. Like all things, inaction leads to atrophy. The Taliban needs successes to maintain internal alliances, recruit new soldiers, and secure resources and supplies. Without military operations, the Taliban faces losing its primary raison d'etre. Plus, this isn't just a military war, it's a huge diplomatic effort to force the Afghan government to perform and root out corruption. You gotta blend military strategy with other goals, like accountability. Setting a timeline is a way of telling the Afghan govt to stop messing around and get with the program.

    December 2, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Sen. McCain, a strategy looks like something foreign since we haven't had one for the last 8 years. I know you want to stay in the middle east for the next 100 years, but it's time to bring the troops home. But I'm confident that this escalation wil produce results that the American people want to see.

    December 2, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. Chanel

    The President had a very tough job to do, and without being on one extreme or the other, no one would be completely happy. Set a timeline, and the Republicans get furious. Don't set a timeline, and the Democrats call you Bush.

    He has all sorts of Generals and National Security advisers (including a former Marine Corps Commandant) advising him... I think they know a WHOLE lot more about what the military is capable of doing than the pundits. I could care less what some political analyst or politician says can or cannot be done.

    If you want the job done right, in an expedient manner. Send in the Marines. I know as long as we supply them with the funds and equipment they need, they will get done whatever needs to be, by whatever timeline is set.

    December 2, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  4. Annie, Atlanta

    You know what? I'm sick of hearing what John McCain has to say. Like we would trust his judgment on anything after inflicting us with Sarah Palin?

    We reach a certain age where we tned to look back instead of foward. Not all of us. But it becomes stronger as we get older. And in looking back we tend to revise history as we know it. John McCain, and many other old men in Congress, need to be replaced with people (on both sides) who can look forward. Because forward is where we're going to go, like it or not.

    December 2, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  5. what is this?

    Cmon, is tis some kind of game to out do the Russians 9 year foray?

    Is it a matter of pride? Hell the only thing that moved the russians forward when they were in Afghanistan was outright and formalized brutality, torture, wanton destruction, a disreguard for the welfare of anyone in the attempt to eliminate all Taliban. (this is documented.)

    you dont lose if you dont quit? what about the soldiers?

    its a medeival nation that wants to stay that way, the only way to change this is for US forces to become Barbarians too. Is that us? was it ever?

    The conflict is here ...at home, it begins with bringing the previous admin to trial, for crimes against the People of the United States.

    The evidence leads us right back to there.

    December 2, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. lovable liberal

    Did the committee question the plan? Or just Republicans on the committee? Did any of the Democrats question the escalation?

    December 2, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  7. Chas

    Does John McCain remember that he lost the election becasue of his decision making abilities. Duh – he should be held criminally responsible for unleashing Sarah Palin on the rest of the nation.

    Now we have a President who doesn't shoot from the hip, who investigates, gathers information, deliberates, and challenges BEFORE making crucial and critical decisions. Hmmm. That certainly didn't happen in the previous administration and wouldn't happen in a McCain administration either.

    Simply said, "Go home, John. You had your chance and blew it."

    December 2, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  8. inofritzn

    Jeez you liberals are unbelievable!! Bash the crud out of McCain because he dares question Obama, and still bash McCain when most of Obama's liberal friends are questioning Obama's plan. You're nuts!! (NO the other side is not much better) Grow up please! Obama even said it DEPENDS on the ground conditions.

    December 2, 2009 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. Puzzled

    Why does the press not report on some congressmen's opinions that we should completely withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan? Jimmy duncan of Tennessee has made clear and consistent logic from the beginning of the Irag "War" about why we should stay out of these quagmires. Nothing we do is going to change the minds of the people of Iraq or Aghanistan in hte long run. They are going to return to their war lord leaders and fight it out among themseleves for control. Aghanistan has never been conquered and never will. It defeated the British and the Russians, and bankrupted the Russians. It ultimately will bankrupt us, as well. The government in Afghanistan is totally corrupt and has no legitimacy among the Aghani people and never will yet we continue to prop up these money grabbers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    December 2, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. Ben in Texas

    Here's one for McCain: Saying "Mission Accomplished" and still being in Afghanistan years later is also incompatible. Did it take you that long to figure it out, or are you just being the partisan political hack you've always been?

    No Repugnant who never called Bush out when he was wrong should have anything to say about Obama now.

    December 2, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. sensible Cape coral Fl

    Isn't it possible that the time line was for the benefit of the Afgan government rather than the insurgents? Message: Get your s- together by the deadline or else you're on your own !!!!!!

    December 2, 2009 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. Sandra,Atlanta

    Can all of you republicans for just once since January 20th shut up and support the country instead of yourselves. I personally am absolutely sick of you and your constant controversy and complaining.

    December 2, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  13. Stu

    We never learn. We announced the end of bombing in N Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese and VC just held on a little longer. Obama, seeking to gain a "victory" right before his reelection bid, just handed the war to the Taliban. Knowing we will withdraw in three years they will just dig in and hold on. Our enemies have unlimited resolve, we have none. The objective of war is to win, period. We have to stop the white-glove, politically-correct mentality of waging war. If we are going to go, we should go to win. We haven't done that since WWII.

    December 2, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. OleSarge in Maryland

    The Senate Commitee should ask questions about how to pay for troops, not a withdrawl date. If the President said we would leave in 10 years, that would be too long. He said July 2011, and that is too short. He gets criticized either way. The timeline of July 2011 is smart. This is just a plan and plans change all the time.

    December 2, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  15. DougW

    All tasks must have a completion time line... otherwise how can you plan, and measure success or failure? This simply give us a target... that DOES NOT mean it is the absolute, final, written in stone, withdrawal date...

    December 2, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  16. ATL Guy

    What has helped the Taliban and al Qaeda was the dithering by Bush and Cheney in Afghanistan over the last 8 years. Anything being done now is to stem the fallout from that disastrous period in our foreign policy.

    December 2, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  17. t22

    Setting a timeline tells the Taliban and Al Qaeda to just suck it up for 18 months and then they can come back and take over the country. Putting a date on something you can't control is silly. Let's apply this logic to crime in your city. Tell the criminals we're going to hire a bunch of cops, but only until next summer, then we're going to leave. Do you think that will work well?

    December 2, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. Lisa in FL

    "are two incompatible statements," said Arizona Sen. John McCain

    Well, sir, you should know about things being "incompatible", as you were the moron that selected Sarah Palin to be one heart beat away from the Commander-in-Chief title. Now THAT is incompatible.

    December 2, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  19. Anthony In Miami

    The funny thing is every time I come on here, everybody is saying what the President should do or not do! If he does what one side or the other wants, he's always wrong! This is the death of America as we know it. There is no more common good. My advice to the people who keep making comments: We have an all volunteer service. Pick up the weapon and stand the post. Every so called expert I see on every channel is saying the same thing silently- -No the President should listen to me! And McCain- -The election is over and you lost! There are members of the Armed Services who have lost so much respect for you because you have politicized your service! I support my President because so many people don't care about winning or losing in Afghanastain or anywhere else- -Their sole want: Find a way to make Barack Obama fail! And for that reason, I stand with you Mr. President! My grandmother always told me, when nobody is willing to stand with you, you're probably doing something right.

    December 2, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  20. Michael

    The fact that McCain doesn't understand how you can have a targeted withrdrawal date that can be affected by conditions on the ground is the reason that he is not currently the President of the United States. My plan is to have my son potty trained by the time he is three. If he isn't? I guess I'll have to change my plan, hunh?

    December 2, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  21. Independent Lilarose, Bandon, Oregon

    For cryin' out loud! Let's get the job done NOW and not worry about when we will be leaving!

    McCain is a has been, time to shut up, John! Or better yet, RETIRE!

    He doesn't care about America, he cares about his political future.

    December 2, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  22. DonBeal

    This is a stunningly difficult position to be in; build up forces, draw them down, set a goal for withdrawal? It's easy for Senator McCain, not having to actually make a decision, to criticize President Obama, but what is the alternative? Should we declare that we will stay in Afghanistan in perpetuity, until hell freezes over, or what? Our military forces are not machines and our resources are not infinite. President Obama is trying to find the balance which is a refreshing change from the immediate past.

    December 2, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  23. Ben in Texas

    Doesn't anybody ever think about these preconceived notions? You can't set an arbitrary deadline because you give vital information to the enemy if you do? Let's analyze this.

    You're an al Qaida leader in Afghanistan. Your strategy is and always has been to keep fighting and running until the Americans leave, and then re-take the reins of power. Now, you hear that the Americans are going to begin leaving in July 2011. Ah ha!

    Your strategy now becomes: Keep fighting and running until the Americans leave.

    Nothing has changed. You now know that the Americans MAY begin leaving in July 2011, but you also know that lots of things can happen between now and then, and they may leave sooner or later. The date set by Obama gives you nothing you did not already have and helps you in no way. It might even make you careless and lazy.

    December 2, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  24. Mike1952

    Anyone who thinks Obama can eliminate the corruption in the Afghan government, police, and military, while training that military and police, in 18 months is just ignorant. That likely won't happen in his lifetime. The troop escalation is a good choice by Obama and should be defended. The arbitrary withdrawal date is simply wrong and should be criticized for all the reasons those doing so provide. It is naive on Obama's part to tip his hand regarding his lack of comittment to see it through. He's just simply not up to the task of leading the greatest country on earth. One and done.

    December 2, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  25. Independent Bob

    Yesterday the media told us what the President would say in his speech. Last night the President spoke. Today is the "spin" day where we are told what to think about the President's speech. All the pundits will spin it and all the politiciains will seek to gain some advantage by criticizing or supporting the President.

    I am not an Obama supporter, but he is the Commander in Chief. He has made his decision and the military in its typical manner will go forth and do everything in its power to acheive the Commander's objectives.

    Is he doing the right thing or not? Only time will tell. I personally appreciate the fact that he established a timeline. I recognize that the enemy always has a say and timelines are really more like guidelines. We are expending tremendous amounts of blood and treasure to the effort so I hope the strategy succeeds.

    I recognize that the "politics as usual" reality in which we live and the 24 hour news cycle requires all the spin and all the political posturing. I for one am tired of it.

    December 2, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
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