U.S. forces carry an injured soldier through a poppy field in Kandahar province… (Paula Bronstein, Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — A leading antiwar congresswoman established a new marker in the Afghanistan war debate Friday, calling on President Obama to swiftly withdraw at least 50,000 U.S. troops in a further indication of Congress' growing unease with the 10-year-old military operation.
The push from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) offers the president a view from the political left as the White House engages in internal deliberations over the scale of the drawdown Obama plans to announce in July. Lee said anything less than a halving of the 100,000 U.S. troop presence would be too modest.
Military officials counter that a large force is still needed and that the U.S. should stick with its plan to turn over security in the country to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
"As the president contemplates this decision, I urge him to hold true to his comments that he will seriously consider a 'significant' reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan," said Lee, a member of the liberal wing in the House.
"A more significant and reasonable goal would be the withdrawal of 50,000 combat troops," she said. "Any withdrawal plan should begin immediately and be conducted swiftly, not dragged out over years."
At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday the president was consulting with national security advisors and would announce a decision soon. But Carney said the president wouldn't be swayed by sentiment on Capitol Hill or in the broader public about the pace of the drawdown.
"The fact is, he'll make this decision based on his assessment of the accomplishments that have come from the execution of the policy and what is in the best interest of further success in that policy,'' Carney said.
Congress has grown increasingly war-weary, pushing back against the Obama administration's national security strategy, especially after the U.S. joined the NATO-led operation in Libya this spring.
An unusual alliance of antiwar liberals and fiscally conservative Republicans has created a growing political force against U.S. military operations. Concerns about rising federal deficits, coupled with polls showing a drop in public support for the war, are fueling the push for a quicker withdrawal.
Last month, the House fell about a dozen votes short of passage of legislation pressing the administration on an exit strategy for Afghanistan — the largest vote of opposition since the war began in 2001. More recently, the House has escalated its criticism of the president for not seeking congressional approval for military engagement in Libya as required under the War Powers Act.
The House is about to begin debating the annual Pentagon appropriations bill, which has been used in past efforts to reduce war funds.
Peter Nicholas in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.