Unease in Congress, region over Obama Afghan plan

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Unease in Congress, region over Obama Afghan plan
US President Barack Obama hugs Kalynne May Arrick from Tyler, Texas, after learning that her older brother Marine Sgt. Kenneth May had been killed in Afghanistan in 2010, at a pub in Denver, Colorado, on July 8, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Army helicopter gunner watches over the Afghan countryside while flying between Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar on June 2, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Army helicopter gunner watches over the Afghan countryside while flying between Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar on June 2, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An Afghan home is seen while flying between Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar on June 2, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers walk from the DEFAC, a military dining facility, at Forward Operating Base Pasab in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on June 2, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers pass a stencil referencing the television show 'The Office' while walking to a dining facility at Kandahar Airfield on June 1, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the parents of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, return to the Oval Office after speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama and the Bergdahl's spoke after the release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers walk along a boardwalk surrounding sports fields and dining and shopping areas for those stationed at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar on June 1, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers shop in a store along a boardwalk surrounding sports fields and dining and shopping areas for those stationed at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar on June 1, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Army helicopter gunner watches over the Afghan countryside while flying between Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar on June 2, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Stencils are seen on a protective barrier at Afghanistan's Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar on June 1, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Soldiers cast shadows on a wall as they talk at night at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar on June 1, 2014. US forces will complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, President Barack Obama has said, unveiling a plan to end America's longest war. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Major General Stephen Townsend, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, poses for a photograph at Afghanistan's Bagram Airfield in Parwan on May 30, 2014. President Hamid Karzai welcomed US plans to pull all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, and called on Taliban insurgents to seize the opportunity to seek peace. Outlining the US strategy to end America's longest war, 15 years after the September 11 attacks, President Barack Obama confirmed that the 32,000-strong US deployment in Afghanistan would be scaled back to around 9,800 by the start of 2015. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-unrest-US-military-veterans-health,FOCUS by Daniel De Luce This photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows US soldiers watching as others prepare artillery for wounded veterans to shoot during 'Operation Proper Exit' at Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan's Logar Province. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-unrest-US-military-veterans-health,FOCUS by Daniel De Luce This photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows staff at Heathe N. Craig Joint Theatre Hospital waiting to greet wounded veterans during 'Operation Proper Exit' at Bagram Airfield some 60 km north of Kabul on May 28, 2014. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-unrest-US-military-veterans-health,FOCUS by Daniel De Luce This photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows US soldiers waiting to greet wounded veterans during 'Operation Proper Exit' at Bagram Airfield some 60 km north of Kabul on May 28, 2014. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-unrest-US-military-veterans-health,FOCUS by Daniel De Luce This photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows US Army Sergeant First Class Joshua Olson (C), of Washington, who lost his right leg at the hip while serving in Iraq in 2003, and others receiving a tour of a medevac helicopter during 'Operation Proper Exit' at Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan's Logar Province. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
To go with Afghanistan-unrest-US-military-veterans-health,FOCUS by Daniel De Luce This photo taken on May 28, 2014 shows US Army Sergeant Major (retired) Colin Rich, of Massachusetts who is legally blind and suffers from seizures after being shot twice in the head while serving in Afghanistan in 2002, holding a rocket while touring aircraft including an Apache Attack Helicopter at Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan's Logar Province. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Deb Riechmann

WASHINGTON (AP) - Afghanistan's disputed election and Iraq's unraveling are giving members of Congress and U.S. allies in the region reason to think President Barack Obama should rethink his decision to withdraw virtually all Americans troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016.

The White House says Afghanistan is different from Iraq, mired in sectarian violence since shortly after U.S. troops left, and that the drawdown decision is a done deal.

Some lawmakers, however, are uncomfortable with Obama's plan, which responds to the American public's war fatigue and his desire to be credited with pulling the U.S. from two conflicts. Ten senators, Republicans and Democrats, raised the drawdown issue at a congressional hearing Thursday.

They argued that it's too risky to withdraw American troops out so quickly, especially with the Afghan presidential election in the balance. They don't want to see Afghanistan go the way of Iraq, and they fear that the Afghan security force, while making substantial gains, won't be ready for solo duty by the end of 2016.

Under Obama's plan, announced in May before Sunni militants seized control of much of Iraq, some 20,200 American troops will leave Afghanistan during the next five months, dropping the U.S. force to 9,800 by year's end. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, with only about 1,000 remaining in Kabul after the end of 2016.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, testified this past week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He spoke highly of the 352,000-strong Afghan security force that assumed responsibility for the country in June 2013 and lauded them for keeping violence down during the recent election.

"We had over 300 campaign events involving thousands of people, some as large as 20,000," Dunford said. "The Afghan forces secured all of those campaign events."

The U.S. withdrawal plan, however, is based on being able to fix the Afghan security force's shortcomings by the end of 2016.

Dunford described gaps in planning, programming, budgeting, delivering spare parts, fuel payment systems - things the U.S. military takes for granted. Afghanistan also needs to brush up its intelligence operation and develop the nascent air force.

Dunford laid out his best-case scenario under the current plan:

-The Afghan presidential election is resolved.

-Afghan security forces continue to improve and are sustainable by 2017 so a small U.S. presence inside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul - a "security cooperation office" - is sufficient.

-Shortfalls in the Afghan forces are addressed.

-The U.S. and other donor nations continue to fund the Afghan government, security forces and development projects.

-Afghan-Pakistani relations improve and the two nations have adequate capabilities - and the will - to counter terrorism.

His worst-case scenario: The election remains unresolved; Afghan-Pakistan relations sour and both countries fall short of battling extremist militants; al-Qaida or other militant groups regain their footing in the border region and plot attacks against the U.S.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of Obama's plan, said trying to meet the goals for a successful outcome was like "kicking a 65-yard field goal into the wind."

"There's a disaster in the making to our homeland and to losing all the gains we fought for inside of Afghanistan by drawing down too quick and not being able to help the Afghans in a reasonable fashion," Graham said.

Earlier this month, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that despite declining security in Iraq, the president was not "presently disposed to reconsider the decision."

"Afghanistan isn't Iraq," Dobbins said. "In Iraq, the people didn't want us, and not a single Iraqi politician was prepared to advocate our staying. In Afghanistan, the people overwhelmingly want us to stay, and every single contender in the presidential election said they would sign the bilateral security agreement" with the United States.

"In Iraq, they could get along without us, at least temporarily, because they had plenty of money. In Afghanistan they can't possibly get along without us," he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, the committee chairman, said it was still hard not to draw the comparison.

"When the administration announced plans to completely draw down forces from Afghanistan by 2016, I was concerned about the plan, and I still have concerns," said Menendez, D-N.J.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, said he was happy that Obama had decided to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year. But Corker was against putting a two-year timeline on a virtual complete withdrawal.

"It's amazing. When we talk to people within the administration that know things like this - and are pretty tuned in - they say, 'Hey guys, don't worry about this, this is just a plan, we're going to reassess.' But you're telling me, as a special envoy, this is concrete - right now this is not just a plan, but this is the way it's going to be."

"I think this reflects the president's intentions," Dobbins said. He acknowledged that other countries in the region support the continuation of a U.S. and NATO military mission in Afghanistan for at least several more years.

"Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China all fear Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for their own hostile militant groups," he said. "India fears Afghanistan again becoming a training ground for terrorist groups targeting them. Russia remains concerned about the flow of narcotics. Iran and Pakistan fear new floods of refugees."

A senior Pakistan defense official, visiting Washington last week, told The Associated Press that the entire basis of the drawdown has not been met.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly on U.S. policy, said the withdrawal plan was based on having a peaceful transition from outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a new government, Afghanistan signing the security agreement and assurances the Afghan security forces will be able to hold the country together once the international forces leave.

"Tell me, has any one of them been met?" he asked.

He said he had come to Washington carrying a message: Pakistan wants the president to take another look.

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