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U.S. House Rejects Pullout From Afghanistan

Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly rejected a measure calling for President Barack Obama to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan, in an election-year test of his decision to escalate the war.

But dozens of Obama's Democrats in the House did support the pullout resolution, indicating division over war policy ahead of November congressional elections in which Republicans are expected to make gains.

Sixty-five lawmakers, most of them Democrats, voted for the pullout resolution written by liberal Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich, while 356 voted against.

It was the first challenge by members of the Democratic majority in Congress to U.S. involvement in the conflict since Obama ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and an offensive began last month to retake the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand Province.

Aware that many liberal Democrats are unhappy about the continuing war, Obama has said the plan is to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan from July 2011.

The United States already plans to pull its troops from Iraq by the end of next year. Both wars began under George W. Bush, Obama's Republican predecessor as president.

Supporters of the Kucinich resolution said it was time for lawmakers to consider if they wanted to continue the nearly 9-year-old war in Afghanistan in which about 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent.

"Unless this Congress acts to claim its constitutional responsibility, we will stay in Afghanistan for a very, very long time at great cost to our troops and to our national priorities," Kucinich said.

Detractors argued the United States could not withdraw from Afghanistan before the government there was able to provide security because the Taliban could then provide safe haven for Al-Qaeda once again.

"I'm keenly aware that even if we remain in Afghanistan -- and here I want to emphasize this -- there's no guarantee that we will prevail in our fight against Al-Qaeda. But if we don't try, we are guaranteed to fail," said Representative Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Abandoning Afghanistan just when a new strategy and a new leadership has begun to bear fruit I think would be a mistake," said House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

Frustrated Liberals

Congress passed a resolution authorizing military force in Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States.

But Kucinich said the 2001 vote was not intended to endorse unending war at an ever-rising price. His resolution would have directed Obama to bring U.S. forces home by the end of this year at the latest.

Some Democrats expressed sympathy but did not back the measure because it was brought under the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Act, a Vietnam-era law they said did not apply to a war like Afghanistan that Congress had authorized.

Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman suggested that war opponents should instead vote against funding the war. Congress is expected to act on the Obama administration's request for $33 billion to pay for the troop surge later this year.

Frustrated liberals said they were tired of war and of the argument that pulling out would dishonor those who died.

"We've got to double down on a bad policy to protect the honor of those who have already died? I don't think so," said Democrat Patrick Kennedy.

John Duncan, one of the handful of Republicans supporting the pullout resolution, argued there was nothing "conservative" about the war in Afghanistan.

"Fiscal conservatives should be the most horrified about the hundreds of billions that have been spent over there," he said.