The news that broke over the past few days that President Obama has decided to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned has alienated some anti-war activists, but Tampa Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is fine with the idea.
The revelation — first reported in The New York Times on Saturday — is a reversal of Obama’s announcement back in May that America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. In that address in the Rose Garden in May, the president said, “Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.”
But the new policy allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government.
Castor said the situation with the transfer of power in Afghanistan to President Ashraf Ghani is a major factor in Obama’s reversal.
“Just like in Iraq, we had trouble with (former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki. He was not the leader he should have been for a united Iraq,” she told this reporter Monday afternoon after an event in South Tampa, referring to how the Obama administration could not come to terms with the Iraqi leader in 2011, leading the U.S. to withdraw all of its troops at the end of that year. “Same with Hamid Karzai (the now departed Afghan leader). As president he developed a very antagonistic relationship with the U.S. and I think it’s important moving forward that we do not lose the gains in Afghanistan.”
Castor said that the continuing mission for the 9,800 troops there “are not intensive combat roles, they’re assistance roles to the Afghan forces that will need a little bit of help to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”
U.S. officials told The Times that the advancement of Islamic State forces across northern Iraq and the collapse of the Iraq army also led U.S. generals to forcefully win the argument that troops should remain in Afghanistan after this year, despite the fact that Operation Enduring Freedom is set to end on Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is leaving the administration. Rep. Castor said she had no inside knowledge about what led to the shakeup, and instead simply praised Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the first former enlisted combat soldier to be defense secretary.
“I’m grateful to Secretary Hagel for his service to our country,” she said Monday. “He’s devoted his life to service, whether it was serving in Vietnam or serving in the U.S. Senate or head of the USO and then as secretary of defense. What a remarkable career.”
Over the weekend Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made news by issuing a proposal that would have declared war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. In addition, his bill would set limitations in the fight against ISIS, including limiting the use of combat ground forces except when Americans are in “imminent danger,” intelligence reasons or for specific high- value topics.
“It’s the constitutional duty of the U.S. Congress to take a vote and to have proper oversight role,” Castor said, agreeing that there should be a vote. “Unfortunately, this Congress is known as the Do Nothing Congress, whether it’s immigration, creating jobs, infrastructure bill that’s long overdue, and the same goes for our constitutional duty to declare war.”
And speaking of taking votes, count Castor as one Democrat who hopes that Speaker John Boehner will finally be compelled to schedule a vote on comprehensive immigration reform before too long. In announcing his executive order last week that will shield up to 5 million undocumented people from deportation, Obama blamed Republicans in the House for failing to take up a bipartisan Senate bill that passed in 2013.
For years businesses, families and churches all across the Tampa Bay area and across the state of Florida have urged the Congress to act when it comes to immigration, and this Congress just kicked the can down the road,” she said. “Not withstanding the fact that Speaker Boehner said, ‘Oh, we’re going to bring it up, we’re going to bring it up.’ They never did act. I’ve heard since the announcement from business owners, and a wide variety of businesses on how relieved they are, not to mention families who wil have a little breathing room now. This is a temporary action, maybe Congress will get the message, my Republican colleagues will get the message and actually bring a bill to the floor for a vote. They should, again that’s their responsibility, otherwise you just have amnesty in place. That doesn’t make sense. We want people paying taxes, and getting in line for citizenship. People are eager to do that and America needs the workforce, so if the Congress continues to stick their head in the sand, it’s right for the president to act.”