Why Should the Senate Fund 'Enduring' U.S. Military Bases in Afghanistan?

Much ink has been spilled over the president's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. The White House insists that the date is firm. But the pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined, and the White House hasn't said a word about when -- if ever -- a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will be complete.

There is a signed agreement that says U.S. troops have to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But there is no such agreement for Afghanistan. Yet, the majority of Americans have told pollsters that they think the U.S. should establish a timetable for military withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post that the Pentagon is planning for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan:

Three $100 million air base expansions in southern and northern Afghanistan illustrate Pentagon plans to continue building multimillion-dollar facilities in that country to support increased U.S. military operations well into the future.

Pincus noted that "... many of the installations being built... have extended time horizons. None of the three projects... is expected to be completed until the latter half of 2011. All of them are for use by U.S. forces rather than by their Afghan counterparts."

But Pincus also reported that, while the House has approved the money for this "enduring base" construction, the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Should there not at least be a debate on this issue in the Senate?

There is a strong, recent and highly-relevant precedent for Congress to reject or alter this funding request. In July 2008, Pincus reported in the Post that Congress had rejected Pentagon requests for military construction in Iraq that seemed "long-term":

Congress eliminated the Army's request for $184 million to build power plants at five bases in Iraq. Those are to be among the final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the U.S. military presence is reduced.

Congress "did not want to do anything in Iraq that seemed long-term, and the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete," a Senate staff member told the Post in July of 2008.

Why does the Pentagon want "enduring" military bases in Afghanistan?

In his July 2008 article, Pincus noted:

When he initially sought the funds last year, Adm. William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, described Bagram [Air Base] as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."

That suggests that the Pentagon's plans are motivated more by a long-term goal of projecting U.S. military power in the region than anything to do with the story about building up Afghan forces so we can leave.

Under the Bush administration, that was a goal for the U.S. military in Iraq: establishing permanent military bases to project U.S. military power in the region. But Congress resisted that goal.

It's time for Congress to exercise the same oversight over Pentagon plans in Afghanistan as it exercised in 2008 over Pentagon plans in Iraq. Congress should not be funding "enduring" U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

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