Afghan War Amendment to DOD Bill Falls Just Short

BY Linda J. Scott  May 26, 2011 at 6:19 PM EST

The U.S. House of Representatives almost approved an amendment that would have moved the United States toward a faster exit from the war in Afghanistan. The language would have required a plan and time frame for an accelerated exit strategy for withdrawing U.S. forces from that region nearly ten years after that conflict began. The vote was 204-215.

The House did approve on Thursday the associated $690 billion defense bill that limits President Obama’s authority on reducing nuclear weapons and deciding the fate of terrorists suspects, while also funding the Pentagon. The vote was 322-96 in the Republican-controlled House. The appropriations would provide for a 1.6 percent increase in military pay, fund an array of aircraft, ships, submarines and increase health care fees slightly for working-age military retirees. The bill also gives the Pentagon the $119 billion it requested to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Obama will begin drawing down some of the 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in July, with all combat forces due out by 2014. Proponents of the failed amendment said it would send a strong signal to the president that people are weary and frustrated with war.

“Today’s strong bipartisan vote represents a huge step forward in an effort to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close,” said the sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “I hope the president recognizes that there is a growing consensus in Congress and the country that our policy needs to change.”

McGovern offered a similar amendment last year that got 162 votes in a Democratic majority Congress.

McGovern also said he believes Americans are frustrated and not quite sure what we’re doing there. “We got [Osama] bin Laden,” he said after the vote.

The underlying Defense Authorization bill would also limit President Obama’s authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to installations in the United States. President Obama has threatened to veto any bill including that language, according to the Associated Press. The House added another provision on Thursday to require that foreign terrorists be tried in military tribunals.

Lawmakers have also complained that President Obama violated the war powers resolution because he did not seek congressional authorization for military action in Libya. The House backed a measure, 416-5, that would bar any taxpayer dollars for U.S. ground forces or private security contractors in Libya. It exempts those involved in rescue missions for U.S. service members.

President Obama recently said the U.S. involvement is limited in the NATO-led operation. He also repeated his promise not to send ground forces to Libya at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in London this week.

The House bill must be reconciled with a Senate version. Work begins in the Senate Armed Services Committee to craft the legislation June 13.

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