WASHINGTON - Lawmakers of the United States Senate have voted for an accelerated withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, in line with the president desire to secure early comeback of the forces from the remote country.
Following more than a decade of war, the Senate, late on Thursday, passed a strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 on a non-binding amendment to a defense policy bill, sending a clear message to the White House and the Pentagon on the pace of the drawdown of 66,000 soldiers still in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama, according to his timetable, has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014, but he has pressed for a quicker pace of the pullout, without specifying how that would be achieved.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US will need to keep troops in Afghanistan even after the combat mission ends in 2014 because Al-Qaeda organization is still present in the country and is trying to strengthen its influence. He would not say how many American troops he thinks will be needed to conduct that mission, nor did he mention a time period. He added that the United States also will have to train and assist the Afghan forces while providing support.
"The goal here is an enduring presence therefore that will direct itself toward three important missions. One is obviously counterterrorism to insure that we continue to go after whatever Al-Qaeda targets remain in Afghanistan," Panetta told reporters at a Pentagon news conference late on Thursday.