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Gillibrand urges plan for July 1 start on leaving Afghanistan

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Tuesday pressed the Obama administration to develop a detailed plan for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan starting July 1.

"The bottom line is the United States cannot afford an open-ended war in Afghanistan," Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a conference call with reporters. "It is time for Afghanistan to take responsibility for its own security."

Gillibrand's comments came on the same day that Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. forces are making progress and are on schedule to meet President Obama's timetable to begin withdrawing on July 1.

"The momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus said. "However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible."

While Gillibrand and the Obama administration don't disagree on the basic timetable for an Afghanistan withdrawal -- with combat troops beginning to leave in July and all combat forces to depart by sometime in 2014 -- the senator's comments were far more pointed than those of Petraeus.

"After nearly a decade at war, with still no equal commitment from the Karzai government, and after all the lives weve sacrificed and the billions we've spent on this war, it's time to start bringing our troops home," said Gillibrand, an Armed Services Committee member who heard Petraeus testify before she spoke with reporters.

Her comments also came on the same day that a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that nearly nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the war in Afghanistan is no longer worth fighting, the highest proportion yet opposed to the conflict.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a "substantial number" of combat forces from Afghanistan this summer, the deadline he set to begin pulling out some troops. Only 39 percent of respondents, however, say they expect him to withdraw large numbers.

The Afghanistan conflict began in response to the 9/1 1 terrorist attacks, but Gillibrand stressed that America's primary terror threats today come from other countries such as Yemen and Pakistan.

While she acknowledged it is possible that Afghanistan could again become a haven for al-Qaida in the wake of a U.S. troop withdrawal, Gillibrand said she is concerned that the conflict there detracts from efforts to deter possible terror attacks that originate in other countries.

"The reality is that we haven't had a terror attempt from Afghanistan" in years, she added.

Gillibrand said she is an original co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., which would force Obama, by July 31, to deliver a plan for the final withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014. The United States currently has almost 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 95 from Western New York, Gillibrand said.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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