Tuesday afternoon, news broke that the United States and the Afghan government were on the verge of a new security deal that could potentially create an indefinite US military presence in the country. NBC News obtained a draft of the agreement, which extends until “2024 and beyond” and allows for the United States to operate military bases in Afghanistan and maintain combat operations against who it deems Al Qaeda operatives.
The draft agreement didn’t specify troop levels, but Afghan officials told NBC News they hoped 10,000 to 15,000 American troops would remain in the country for at least the next decade, though American officials said it would be closer to 7,000 or 8,000. In either case, if signed, the United States would be agreeing to at least a decade-long military commitment in Afghanistan—meaning a twenty-three-year war, at the very least.
But a bipartisan group of senators—led by Jeff Merkley of Oregon—is trying to pump the brakes. They have a simple principle: before President Obama agrees to another decade of war, he should consult Congress and the American people.
The Nation has learned that Merkley, along with original co-sponsors Rand Paul, Joe Manchin, Mike Lee and Ron Wyden, will introduce an amendment to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act that expresses a sense of the Senate that Obama should seek congressional approval no later than June 1, 2014, for any extended presence in Afghanistan.
This is how the relevant part of the amendment, which was provided to The Nation, reads:
A Senate leadership aide, however, told The Nation that Merkley’s amendment was unlikely to receive a vote before the Senate breaks for Thanksgiving recess, and that once the Senate returns, “there will be a priority to wrap up NDAA and vote on a final bill.” The aide did not rule out, however, that a vote on the amendment could still occur after the holiday.
A similar measure asking Obama to seek congressional approval for an extended war in Afghanistan passed the House earlier this year by a 305-121 vote, also as an amendment to the lower chamber’s version of the NDAA. It also had bipartisan sponsorship.
While neither amendment is binding, both clearly put the White House in a difficult position. Polls show the grinding war in Afghanistan is highly unpopular, with 67 percent of Americans believing the war was not worth it. A debate over authorization to continue a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan might mirror the debate over intervention in Syria earlier this year—where congressional support never materialized.
Check out The Nation’s interactive database compiling civilian casualties in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001.