WASHINGTON – Reaction among Maryland lawmakers to President Obama’s call to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan was mixed Thursday.
“We have to have a plan to move forward,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville. “I feel strongly that we must have an exit strategy so that we won’t be there for years and years, but we cannot tell the enemy the exact date we will leave.”
“Our No. 1 focus has to be the Taliban,” Ruppersberger said, referring to the fundamentalist Islamists who formerly ran the country. Their resurgence, he said, “would be a threat not only to the region but to our country and our family and communities.”
On Tuesday, Obama announced another 30,000 troops will be sent to Afghanistan, while the entire force will gradually withdraw beginning in July 2011. He called the decision of “vital national interest.”
The announcement came after months of mulling various war strategies in response to the additional troop request from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, in August.
“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow,” Obama said to the audience of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Obama also said that the “new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.”
Other Maryland lawmakers issued written statements following the announcement.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said he respected the president’s commitment to the mission, but recognized that the economy must be considered as well.
“I understand that we must fight, and we must finish this job,” Cummings said. “Like so many Americans, I grow weary of constant war; I mourn the dead, and pray for our injured fighting men and women; and I know we must control spending in this nation, including defense spending.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said setting a target date to withdraw is important.
“(The president’s) statement made it clear that there is an expectation that Afghanistan must transition to a place of self-reliance in the near term.”
However, some lawmakers criticized Obama’s plan as not detailed enough.
“I remain concerned that the president has left an open-ended commitment and not outlined a mission that can be met primarily with a surge of military force that is the core of the strategy,” said Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington.
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said he is “unconvinced that we should increase American forces to uphold Afghanistan’s internal security.” He also said he is “skeptical of sending additional U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan to perform the duties Afghans must do themselves.”
Others are not releasing their opinions.
“President Obama was … right to take the time to carefully consider a new strategy to finish the job,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, said. Congress should “give this issue the same careful consideration that the president did.”
Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, and Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, echoed similar contemplative views.
“As I weigh his proposed strategy, I will carefully consider the president’s arguments along with the perspectives of military and civilian leaders who will testify before Congress in the coming days,” Sarbanes said.
Kratovil said he has the responsibility to review the plan and “make my own independent judgment on whether this plan offers a realistic pathway for accomplishing our strategic objectives.”