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Welch part of bipartisan group looking to end war

May 9, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON — America should quickly end its nation-building operation in Afghanistan and withdraw troops following the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and a small bipartisan group in the House.

Welch and Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz are spearheading a group that sent a letter to President Barack Obama Monday that asks him to hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan. Instead of a costly nation-building and counter-insurgency strategy, American policy should be to rely on a counter-terrorism strategy focused on drones and special forces to take out Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, Welch said.

“We believe it won’t work, it’s not our job, it’s not sustainable and it doesn’t address the threat,” Welch said Monday in a telephone interview. “This is about changing policy from nation-building to intelligence and special force strikes on actionable intelligence.”

The president has said a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan will begin later this year. But Welch said the time-frame is too slow and taxpayers are losing patience.

Courtesy photo

“It’s not quick enough. What I’ve noticed in Congress is that there are many members who have been skeptical about nation building but they wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the president,” Welch said. “But now that one of our major objectives has been met … more members are feeling comfortable about asking the question.”

Welch and Chaffetz, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, as well as six other House members, urged the president in their letter to alter U.S. Policy.

“The success of this mission does not change the reality that America still faces a determined and violent adversary,” Welch, Chaffetz and their colleagues wrote. “It does, however, require us to reexamine our policy of nation building in Afghanistan. We believe it is no longer the best way to defend America against terror attacks, and we urge you to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan that are not crucial to the immediate national security objective of combating al Qaeda.”

The letter raises the costs of the war abroad while lawmakers wrangle with how to cut the federal budget at home. The war is costing taxpayers about $2 billion a week, according to the letter. “Every dollar spent is added to America’s deficit,” the letter reads.

There is cost on the military too, according to Welch and his colleagues. There are about 100,000 troops now in Afghanistan, and the war is not the longest in American history, the wrote.

Welch said the U.S. cannot commit taxpayer funds to rebuild nations everywhere al-Qaida or the Taliban have a presence. The threat to the U.S. is “dispersed and decentralized,” Welch said, making a nation-building strategy ineffective.
A withdrawal of troops could lead to a flood of Taliban fighters and al-Qaida members seeking a return to Afghanistan, Welch admitted. But the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan shows the U.S. has the capability to strike without troops on the ground, he said.

“I think they’d make an effort to come back and we’d have to take action and … do what we can to deny al-Qaida a safe haven, but it’s naive to think that the only place al-Qaida will seek a safe haven is Afghanistan.”

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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