In a surprise move, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus called for "a change of course in Afghanistan," saying the death of al Qaeda head Usama bin Laden "provides an opportunity for the Congress and the White House to assess a new strategy for keeping America safe and defending our interests around the world."
Calling President Obama's combat troop drawdown scheduled to begin in July "too slow," the Montana Democrat said, "We need to begin handing the responsibility of security to Afghan forces immediately and aim to have most U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of next year."
The senator, recalling a trip to the war-torn country last year, said, "It's time for Afghans to do the job we trained them to do," adding, "Afghans will develop Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. That is the way it should be."
Baucus called for leaving behind "only a small force necessary to hunt down and kill terrorists in Afghanistan and help the Afghan military perform their duties."
The chairman, noting the nation's nearly $14.3 trillion debt with more than $1.2 trillion spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said, "This level of spending is simply not sustainable." Adding to that, Baucus said he will not consider any further aid to Pakistan, who he accused of playing "a double game," until he has a requested assessment in hand from both Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looking at "whether Pakistan is doing enough to find and kill terrorists in its own country."
Baucus recommended two other changes to current U.S. policy, beyond the withdrawal of troops: a renewed "focus on fighting terror not nation building" and and a focus, as well, "on where most terrorist threats come from - Pakistan."
"Our military could do almost anything we ask it to do, but it can't do everything, " Baucus said. "To meet the growing challenges around the world, we need to start bringing our troops home from Afghanistan this July and complete the withdrawal by the end of next year."