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House rejects Afghan withdrawal; GOP newcomers hew to party line

Congressional Republicans held fast Thursday to support for the Afghanistan war, heavily opposing a troop withdrawal in a vote that tested whether conservative new members would adhere to the party leaders on a significant question of U.S. policy.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who put forward the resolution, framed it in fiscal terms, predicting that if troops were not pulled out immediately, the war would last until 2020 and cost an additional $1 trillion.

"Are we ready to give up our entire domestic agenda," Kucinich asked, "so that we can continue on the path of a war to prop up a corrupt regime?"

Despite support from Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican popular with many fiscal conservatives, the argument met with rejection as the House voted 321-93 against the measure.

Still, more lawmakers were inclined to support the pullout than they were a year ago, when a similar proposal was rejected 356-65. Last year, 60 Democrats and five Republicans backed the pullout; this year, 85 Democrats and eight Republicans voted for the withdrawal.

None of the eight Republicans who voted for the pullout are among the chamber's freshman Republican class.

As popular support for the war slides, President Obama has proposed $113 billion for military operations there in his budget for the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1. The president has said he will start withdrawing troops in July, but is leaving specifics to commanders.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told Congress that the war is turning around and that the United States is on track to begin drawing down troops in July. The timeline calls for ending U.S. and NATO combat operations by the end of 2014.

Opponents of the withdrawal measure contend that pulling troops out now would put the United States at a greater risk of terrorist attack and eliminate gains that have been made recently.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said he was reluctant to oppose the resolution but that it would be irresponsible to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in a short period of time.

"We have security interests in Afghanistan that we must accept," Coffman said. "We need to make sure that the Taliban don't take over the country."

Kucinich contended that after 10 years, the war had become a waste of effort as well as money.

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