GOP Lawmakers: Recent Afghanistan Incidents Are Only Distractions

Hawkish House Republicans say the burning of Muslim holy texts and the killing of 16 civilians in Afghanistan is merely a distraction from the true U.S. mission.

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A hawkish House Republican labeled recent controversies in Afghanistan involving U.S. troops as distractions Tuesday.

"U.S. leaders--including President Barack Obama--must not be 'distracted' by cases in which the Pentagon says U.S. forces burned Korans and other holy Muslim texts," California Rep. Buck McKeon said.

[Photos of winter in Afghanistan.]

McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also says people should not focus too much attention and worry on allegations that an Army staff sergeant, Robert Bales, went on a rampage and killed 16 Afghan citizens--including nine children.

Bales merely "lost out to his demons," McKeon said.

Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo echoed McKeon, slapping the "isolated incident" and "anomaly" tags on both the Koran burnings and the mass homicide.

National security experts say the incidents, which sparked revenge killings of U.S. troops and mass protests, could undermine Washington's recent progress in Afghanistan.

Both House Republicans pinned much of the blame for such worries on Obama.

Palazzo added that the Commander-in-chief spends too much time apologizing—as he did to the Afghan people after copies of the Koran were incinerated by American soldiers.

McKeon wants Obama to give more public addresses about the importance of the Afghan mission, along with highlighting recent successes. If the American people heard such remarks from the president, McKeon explained, they would be "better able to handle" the negative developments.

By contrast, pro-military congressional Democrats are more in line with what the American public is saying in opinion polls: The U.S. military has done what it can in Afghanistan and should be brought home.

[Future War Plans Now Largely Focused On Afghan Forces.]

The top Democrat on McKeon's panel, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, applauded American troops for doing "a great job," but said "no people would be happy with over 130,000 foreign troops carrying out combat operations in their country."

"Increased friction and tension are almost unavoidable, and we have seen some of the results of that, with the increase in killing of coalition forces by members of the ANSF and the recent riots over the accidental burning of the Koran," Smith said at the onset of a panel hearing Tuesday.

Smith and other pro-military Democrats, like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, are calling on the Obama administration to revise plans of keeping thousands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan until 2014.

"The solution to this dilemma--that over time our large scale presence will have diminishing returns--is simple," Smith said. "We should accelerate the [withdrawal] plans we have already made."

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen told the House committee that the White House has not ordered him to craft plans to remove U.S. troops before the end of 2014.

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