Md. lawmakers see no change in war plan

Say U.S. should stick with planned troop withdrawal this summer

May 02, 2011|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — — The killing of Osama bin Laden forced lawmakers to grapple with the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, but most members of Maryland's congressional delegation said Monday that the nation should continue on its current course.

Maryland's largely Democratic delegation said the death of the al-Qaida leader should not change the timeline President Barack Obama set out in 2009 when he proposed the 30,000-troop surge for Afghanistan. The White House plans to start withdrawing some of the roughly 100,000 troops in July.

"Bin Laden is dead," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said in an interview, "but al-Qaida is not dead."

Mikulski, who has long supported bringing the military home from Afghanistan, credited the vast complex of spy agencies based in Maryland — including the National Security Agency at Fort Meade — with helping to find bin Laden and identify his body after he was killed Sunday on his compound in Pakistan.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the attention in the nation's war against terrorism might now shift to countries such as Yemen, which he described as "the most dangerous place for us right now."

But the Baltimore County lawmaker said he also supports sticking with the Afghanistan plan developed by Obama and Gen. David Petraeus.

"We have a lot to do still in the war against terror," said Ruppersberger, who visited Yemen in April.

Going after bin Laden, who orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks, has long been a justification for the war in Afghanistan. For nearly a decade officials believed he was hiding somewhere along the country's mountainous border with Pakistan.

Some Democrats said Monday that bin Laden's death would help ensure that the United States meets its target to begin withdrawing troops this summer. Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday that he believes Obama prefers a "robust reduction" in troops levels.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1988 to 2005, said bin Laden's death should at least prompt renewed debate about the nation's involvement in Afghanistan, and whether the effort is still worth the cost in lives and money.

"I think Americans will insist on the folks in power taking another look," said Harris, whose party largely supported the Afghanistan troop surge. "We have achieved one of the major goals of having gone to Afghanistan."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said he doesn't expect any changes in the immediate future for the plan for Afghanistan, in part because of the time it takes to coordinate a large-scale withdrawal.

"I don't think it's any safer for the people of Afghanistan by any significant degree," the Maryland Democrat said. "I'm not sure this will change the schedule."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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