WASHINGTON - One of the strongest defense hawks in Congress says the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan amid increasing signs that even Republican proponents of the war believe it's no longer worth the cost.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., said in an interview this week that "we're killing kids who don't need to die."
Young's comments reflect the growing weariness with a conflict that has dragged on for more than a decade, with polls showing more than 60 percent of Americans opposing the war and military fights drawing little of the public's attention. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney didn't even mention the troops or the war in his convention acceptance speech last month, a striking omission for a GOP candidate.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Friday that the 33,000 additional U.S. troops that President Barack Obama had sent to Afghanistan roughly two years ago to counter the Taliban attacks have left the country.
That leaves close to 100,000 NATO troops, including 68,000 Americans.
Even the fiercest backers of the war in Congress have been unnerved by the increasing wave of deadly insider attacks in which Afghan Army and police troops, or insurgents dressed in their uniforms, have turned their guns on U.S. and NATO forces. This week, commanders imposed new limits on when NATO and Afghan troops can patrol together.
Fifty-one coalition troops have been killed in such attacks this year.
"I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can," Young told the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times on Monday.
As chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees defense spending, Young's words are certain to reverberate at the Pentagon and the White House.
The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, raised the prospect of an early withdrawal of U.S. forces, who are scheduled to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"I think all options (should) be considered, including whether we have to just withdraw early rather than have a continued bloodletting that won't succeed," McCain said Wednesday. "The whole program has to be re-evaluated because the process they said would lead to that withdrawal has been an abject and total failure."
The next day, McCain issued a statement clarifying his comments. He suggested halting the drawdown of U.S. forces to reassess the strategy, including Obama's plan.
He added that no option should be taken off the table, even the possibility of a more rapid withdrawal of American troops. However, McCain insisted that "would be the worst possible course of action.
Panetta said the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum and has dismissed suggestions that the overall strategy is failing.