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Manchin discusses Senate vote on Afghan war resolution

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After last week's vote in the U.S. Senate on a resolution to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014, Sen. Joe Manchin said American troops should be removed from the country sooner if possible.

"We need a quicker transition to Afghan security from our security. This amendment urges the change to take place in the summer of 2013," Manchin said. "Hopefully, we can bring a quicker end to the involvement of the U.S. in combat."

The Senate passed the resolution by a 62-33 vote on Thursday. Thirteen Republicans backed the resolution, which is a nonbinding amendment to the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who introduced the resolution, said this was the first time in 11 years that either the Senate or the House voted to end the war. He said the resolution essentially provided bipartisan endorsement of President Obama's plan to pull troops out by the end of 2014, but encouraged him to do it sooner.

Manchin agreed. "I don't want to put any more of our men and women in harm's way. I don't want to lose any more lives and I don't want to invest any more money in this war," he said during a telephone interview with the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

"Over half a trillion dollars has been spent in Afghanistan. All those resources could have been invested in America. If 2,000 of our troops did not die there, we could have had those bright and talented people working in America.

"We haven't changed anything in Afghanistan. Everything has gotten more violent and more volatile," Manchin said.

The Senate resolution was prompted in part by a resolution in the House of Representatives that senators believed placed no limits on the United States' future engagement in Afghanistan.

The Senate resolution stated the "president should ... continue to draw down United States troop levels at a steady pace through the end of 2014; and end all regular combat operations by United States troops by not later than Dec. 31, 2014."

The resolution urged the White House to "take all possible steps to end such operations at the earliest date consistent with a safe and orderly draw down of United States troops in Afghanistan."

"Let's get the heck out of that place. It makes no sense," Manchin said. "I would like to be out this coming year."

Manchin stressed turning over defense of the country to Afghans.

"We don't see them stepping up to the plate. The Afghan government needs 40,000 new [military] people every year because people quit and take off. There is no way we can save their country if they don't want a country for themselves."

The Senate resolution, Manchin said, is not trying to tie the hands of Obama or the State Department.

Manchin said he would support the use of U.S. Special Operations troops to make sure al-Qaida does not come back and expand.

Withdrawing from day-to-day combat in Afghanistan will neither weaken our military nor cut back our fight against terrorism, he said.

"But nation-building is not our mind-set. This is not a mission for the American military," Manchin said. "Our mission is to stop and prevent terrorism anywhere it may be breeding, anywhere it raises its ugly head.

"We defeated al-Qaida, We killed Osama bin Laden. We should not keep American lives in jeopardy and spend resources we don't have. We are borrowing money for Afghanistan that we should be investing in America."

Manchin has enduring images in his mind from his first trip to Afghanistan 2006.

"The biggest impression I had was seeing all these little girls -- 5- to 6-, 10- to 12- or 14- to 15-year-olds -- wearing scarves on their heads, walking through war zones to go to school. Now they forbid them to go to school.

"Homes are made out of mud. Boundary lines are made out of mud fences. The only crop being raised was poppies, used for opium and drugs. Yet we have sunk over half a trillion dollars into that war."

Manchin believes the war against terrorists will "never end in our lifetimes, in our children's lifetimes or in our grandchildren's lifetimes. But we can't get bogged down in every country where there is a terrorist."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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