WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats in Minnesota’s congressional delegation reacted tonight with cautious optimism to President Obama’s order to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Some lawmakers said they agreed with parts of the plan but remained skeptical about others.
In a prime-time speech, Obama said the additional troops will go to Afghanistan beginning early next year in an effort to finally win a war begun eight years ago as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards,” Obama said, noting momentum by the Taliban, al Qaeda safe havens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and continuing difficulty in securing the country. “In short: The status quo is not sustainable.”
Obama said he plans to begin withdrawing combat troops as early as summer 2011, about 18 months after the surge arrives.
Rep Tim Walz, a Democrat, called the speech “the first page in a new chapter on Afghanistan” but questioned how the administration would pay fund the troop increase.
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who has been opposed to a troop increase in the country until corruption in the Afghan government is cleaned up, said he remains “uncomfortable with the troop increase” but was encouraged by the president’s strict timeline and focus on strengthening the country’s civil society.
Parts of the plan even drew some support from at least one Minnesota Republican, with Rep. Michele Bachmann saying she was “pleased that the president has finally decided to follow the recommendation of our commanding officer in Afghanistan and deploy more troops to the country.”
Still, deep divisions remain. For example, Bachmann and GOP Rep. John Kline blasted the strict withdrawal timeline that Ellison and Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat, praised.
The case for Obama’s plan will be made again repeatedly in the coming days.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify in a pair of hearings on the Afghanistan plan Wednesday, with a third hearing planned for Thursday.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said she will be focused on those hearings and future briefings to gauge “how this strategy will prevent Afghanistan from serving as a base for terrorism, the specific resources that will be necessary to carry out this mission, and the additional costs that it will require.”
She added: “Our troops deserve nothing less.”
Derek Wallbank is MinnPost’s Washington, D.C., correspondent. He can be reached at dwallbank[at]minnpost[dot]com.