David Petraeus
Cliff Owen  /  AP
Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday before the House Armed Service Committee.
updated 3/17/2011 4:57:26 PM ET 2011-03-17T20:57:26

The House overwhelmingly rejected a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by year's end as Republicans and Democrats joined together in embracing President Barack Obama's long-term war strategy.

The vote was 321-93 with one member voting present, a show of bipartisanship on national security and a referendum on the president's policy after last year's troop buildup.

"We need to stand with our commander in chief. We need to stand with our troops and complete this task," Republican Rep. Chris Gibson of New York, a freshman who did four Army combat tours in Iraq, said during the forceful debate.

A resolution expresses lawmakers' opinions but has no legal effect. Although this one had failed in the past and failed again, the debate provided a measure of Congress' impatience with the war in the face of increasing budget pressure and growing public opposition reflected in recent opinion polls.

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A similar resolution failed in the House last March on a vote of 356-65, and both sides were closely watching Thursday's vote to gauge the gains among the resolution's proponents.

During Thursday's debate, lawmakers had warned that passage of the resolution would have dire consequences in the fight against terrorism and put the nation at risk of another 9/11 strike.

Video: Petraeus testimony given scant attention (on this page)

"Withdrawing before completing our mission would reinforce extremist propaganda that Americans are weak and unreliable allies and facilitate extremist recruiting and future attacks," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

This week, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan echoed that warning, saying passage of the resolution would be hailed by the Taliban and al-Qaida as a victory.

"We do not want the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies back in charge of Afghanistan or any significant part of Afghanistan from which they could plot attacks against us as they are still trying to do in the parts of Pakistan they're in," said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Story: Petraeus: First US cuts to include combat units

Top leaders in the House were determined to keep the resolution's proponents from making inroads with the freshman class of 87 Republicans and nine Democrats, pressing them to vote against the measure.

Army Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that the war is turning around and the United States is on track to begin drawing down troops in July. The timeline calls for ending U.S. and NATO combat operations by the end of 2014.

The resolution and its chief sponsors — Reps. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Ron Paul, R-Texas — argue that's not fast enough. The resolution called for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

Kucinich, at the opening of the debate, said the country is spending $100 billion a year on a war that could last another 10 years. "Are we willing to spend another trillion dollars on a war that doesn't have any exit plan?" he asked.

Speaking directly to his budget-conscious colleagues, Kucinich said, "You want to cut out waste. Let's get out of Afghanistan."

First Read: Support for Afghanistan war wanes

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Petraeus called the resolution a mistake that would do serious harm to U.S. national security interests, the coalition of 48 countries contributing military personnel and U.S. forces.

"The Taliban and al-Qaida obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success," Petraeus said. "Needless to say, it would completely undermine everything that our troopers have fought so much for and sacrificed so much for."

The U.S. has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and its international partners have about 40,000.

The resolution came after Petraeus spent two days testifying on Capitol Hill, seeking to build political support for the costly war that has dragged on for nearly 10 years. A Washington Post-ABC News poll out this week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war is not worth fighting.

Petraeus said Wednesday the initial wave of troop withdrawals in July will probably include combat as well as non-combat forces. He mentioned no numbers, nor did he identify which combat units might be pulled out to begin what Obama has called a responsible winding down of the war by 2014.

Story: Petraeus to give upbeat view of Afghan fight

It is widely expected that a large share — if not the majority — of those initial American withdrawals will be support forces, such as logistics specialists who helped in last year's U.S. troop buildup. Petraeus has said he foresees a tough combat season ahead this spring and summer.

The general said that in formulating his recommendation to Obama he will take into account several factors, including the capabilities of Afghan security forces, progress in improving the Afghan government's ability to deliver basic services, and the extent to which ordinary Afghans see their government as legitimate.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Petraeus testimony given scant attention

  1. Closed captioning of: Petraeus testimony given scant attention

    >>> has been testifying on capitol hill . he returns this morning for another day of hearings on the war effort . on tuesday, he said the u.s. is still on track to begin troop withdrawal, but republicans say the obama administration is sending confusing messages about the long-term troop presence.

    >> we're talking about leaving and staying all at the same time and that can be confusing.

    >> i'm also concerned about whether we're sending mixed messages to both the american people and to the afghans.

    >> above your pay grade , there have been mixed messages about timetables or drawing down troops and about what our objectives in afghanistan should be.

    >> national journal senior correspondent yoki dreesen joins me now. what did you learn from general petraeus about the war yesterday that you didn't know before the testimony?

    >> chuck, two things. the first one is that this july 2011 deadline that the white house has been trying to walk back is going to be meaningless and there's even some sign that the 2014 deadline, which was held up as the next time u.s. troops really start to leave afghanistan , that may prove to be less significant than we thought. petraeus said yesterday he'd be open if the afghan government was agreeable to having the u.s. there beyond 2014 . it's that the war may not even end in 2014 either.

    >> you talked a little bit about the expectation of what this year's spring offensive is going to look like when the seasons change in afghanistan . the fighting with the taliban increases. what was his expectation of what that was going to look like over the next three months?

    >> it was a very frankly disspiriting and depression prediction. it was that the spring and summer in 2011 will be much bloodier. it's worth remembering that last year was the bloodiest year, breaking the record set in 2009 and in 2008 . petraeus says it will get worse still this year.

    >> what was your impression of war wearyness among lawmakers? yesterday, haley barbour talked about the idea of he envisions starting to pull a lot more troops out of afghanistan , trying to deal with it with smaller forces. been hearing this quietly among republicans for months, but not much publicly. obviously, we heard some criticism of the president from some republicans, but could you detect war wearyness on a bipartisan basis among the senate questioners yesterday?

    >> a bit of it, chuck, but to be honest, what i sensed more was war boredom. given the number of troops we have who are fighting and dying, but the whole hearing had this weirdly sort of pallid feel to it. there were few reporters. few people listening to the testimony. a lot of the senators would kind of wander in, ask their question and leave. it didn't have the sense of urgency you'd think for a hearing about a very bloody war. that was even more striking than the wearyness in the substantive questioning.

    >> fascinating reporting and perspective. war boredom. what an awful phrase, but it's very apt, unfortunately. thanks very much.


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