Baucus: U.S. combat troops should exit Afghanistan

2012-03-14T06:45:00Z 2012-03-14T14:49:28Z Baucus: U.S. combat troops should exit AfghanistanBy MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau missoulian.com

HELENA – As the debate over U.S. military presence in Afghanistan intensifies, Montana’s senior senator, Max Baucus, is continuing his call for an accelerated withdrawal all U.S. combat troops.

Just last week, Baucus, a Democrat, led a group of 24 senators who signed a letter to President Barack Obama, urging a quick withdrawal of combat troops and a shift toward using troops only as advisers.

And in an interview Tuesday, Baucus said U.S. combat troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan more quickly than is proposed by the Obama administration.

“I just think it’s time to redirect our resources to where they’re most needed,” said Baucus, noting that Obama wants $88 billion in spending on Afghanistan in 2013, while also proposing cuts in ag programs or other items that Americans need. “We don’t need a large army in Afghanistan.”

Obama has directed U.S. military commanders to reduce U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan from 90,000 to 68,000 by September.

The New York Times also reported on Tuesday that the administration is considering removing 10,000 more soldiers by year’s end and another 10,000 to 20,000 by mid-2013. The administration said no formal options have been devised.

Baucus’ recent letter and statements on Afghanistan are reiterations of what he’s been saying for almost a year. Last May, he said American combat troops should be withdrawn by the end of 2012, and he and 27 other senators sent a letter last June calling for a strategy shift in the Middle Eastern country.

The letter last week was “a bit stronger letter,” he said Tuesday, noting that it still represented one-fourth of the Senate, including two Republicans and top Democratic leaders such as Charles Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Baucus also said Tuesday he’s flexible on when troops should be brought home, but that the withdrawal should be faster than proposed by Obama.

Enough troops should remain to help combat terrorism in Afghanistan, but the human and national cost of having a large military force there is too much, he said.

He noted that more than 1,900 American troops have died in Afghanistan, including nine Montanans, as well as more than 14,300 injured, including 75 Montanans.

“Montanans are such patriots,” Baucus said. “Our troops have done their job; their mission is largely accomplished. Al-Qaida is on the run, Osama bin Laden is gone. … (But) I think that nation-building should not be a major mission today.”

He said the nation “has issues at home that we have to take care of,” like maintaining post offices, roads and veterans’ health care.

Baucus said he senses that Congress is moving toward support of an accelerated withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but that it takes time for the appropriations process to play out before Congress this year.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at mike.dennison@lee.net.

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