While some have expressed shock, Washington lawmakers don't seem to have changed their positions on whether the U.S. should speed up its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — Sunday’s carnage in Afghanistan, the apparent result of a violent outburst by a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has left members of the state’s congressional delegation as they were before — sharply divided about how quickly to end the war.
The state’s 11 members of Congress are split on how soon some 90,000 U.S. soldiers still in Afghanistan should come home. The Obama administration plans to formally end combat operations there by December 2014.
Rep. Jim McDermott, the Seattle Democrat who long has pressed for a quick and orderly pullout, feared the shootings would inflame already-high anti-U.S. sentiments in the region.
“This is not an isolated incident,” McDermott said, noting other war crimes committed by American troops against Afghan civilians as well as last month’s Quran burnings.
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“We’re setting ourselves up for a protracted experience,” he said. “I fear it’s going to be bloody.”
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, called the shootings “jaw dropping” and “incomprehensible.” But Larsen did not believe the incident alone would become a catalyst for sweeping U.S. troops out of Afghanistan ahead of schedule.
Still, Larsen said, Afghans clearly have grown hostile to foreign presence. And he said the U.S. has achieved the goals behind its October 2001 invasion, namely rooting out al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, and toppling the Taliban government.
“We don’t have a government in Afghanistan that wants us there,” said Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We already got it right in Afghanistan.”
Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, agreed.
“I think we reached a point where we should look for all opportunities to accelerate” a pullout, Smith said.
Larsen and Smith last May voted against an amendment calling for an almost immediate troop withdrawal, save for small counterterrorism missions. They argued such a hurried pullout potentially could destabilize Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces.
Three other House Democrats — McDermott, Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island and Norm Dicks of Bremerton — voted for the measure, which failed. Three Republicans voted no: Reps. Dave Reichert of Auburn, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane (Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, did not vote).
Larsen and Smith, however, did join a majority of their Democratic colleagues in voting for a separate amendment in May calling for accelerated, but not specified, withdrawal. Twenty-six Republicans — none from Washington — also backed the motion, which fell six votes short of passing.
Washington state Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell also have been pressing for a faster pullout. The two Democrats last week joined 22 other senators, including two Republicans, in urging President Obama in a letter to reduce troops in Afghanistan more rapidly.
Todd Winer, a spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, said Sunday’s killings did not change her support for a gradual withdrawal. The timetable, McMorris Rodgers says, primarily should be dictated by generals on the ground.
Obama has requested $88 billion in 2013 for the Afghan war. Smith said he did not believe the shootings would hurt Obama’s chances of getting what he asked for.
Both he and Larsen said they were concerned that the shootings would unfairly malign troops based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Kyung Song: 202-662-7455