Young joins Afghanistan war skeptics in Congress

Rep. Young says 16 years of war is too long. Also supporting a bill to end funding for the war: Marine vet Will Fischer (left) and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. (right). Photo by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

Congressman Don Young wants to know why Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. He has co-sponsored a bill that would end funding for the war in a year, unless the president and Congress affirm the need for it.

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Motives vary among the House members co-sponsoring the bill, but they say it’s high time Congress debates whether the war should continue. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has Camp Lejeune in his district.

“Speaker Ryan, he can initiate this today if he wanted to,” Jones said. “And he doesn’t seem to want to take the responsibility of the blood that comes from my soldiers and Marines dying in a country that will never change, no matter what you do.”

Rep. Young said 16 years of war is too long.

“No one’s ever told me why we’re there,” Young said. “Originally we were after (Osama) bin Laden. And we got him. But we’re still there. And I very frankly want to find out the answers.”

Congress funds the wars, but it hasn’t updated its Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the war in Afghanistan since 2001.

Young said most Americans don’t even think about Afghanistan any more. This isn’t like World War II, Young said, when just about every family had a soldier and the burdens were widespread.

“We had metal collections, we had blackouts, we had watch-outs, we had gas rationing, we had meat rationing, we had sugar rationing,” Young said. He was 12 when the World War II ended, “Because we all participated in the war that we declared.”

It’s not in the bill, but Young suggested a “conflict tax” as a way to keep people’s attention on military campaigns that are not formally declared wars.

According to the Pentagon, 2,216 U.S. service members have died in the Afghanistan war. Estimates of the cost exceed $1 trillion.

Capitol Hill reporters chase Sen. Lisa Murkowski these days, asking for her to comment on health care, budget cuts and presidential nominees, so an Afghanistan question seemed to come out of left field.

“I have to admit you’re catching me by surprise because we haven’t talked about Afghanistan in so long,” Murkowski said Wednesday.

Murkowski is a member of Appropriations subcommittee that allocates money to the Defense Department each year, so she does have a chance to question Pentagon brass about military needs and goals. Once she thought about it, she said a broader discussion in Congress may be a good idea.

“We don’t want to forget why we sent men and women to go over there to fight for us,” Murkowski said. “We need to know that the cause is right, so to have that conversation in Congress is not unreasonable.”

Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., (left) and Tim Kaine, D-Va. (right).

In a separate action, Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., are calling for a new AUMF against ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Kaine said their moves to get similar measures to a vote in Congress have gone nowhere for years.

“I frankly think this is partly hard because people don’t want to cast a war vote,” Kaine said. “Because there’s going to be a consequence. It should be the gravest vote we ever cast. People want to duck from that if they can.”

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said he isn’t opposed to a new authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan, but he doesn’t want funding for deployed service members to ride on whether Congress can make that decision.

“My approach has been, ‘I’ll look at an AUMF,'” Sullivan said. “But I don’t think right now that an AUMF for our troops in Afghanistan, is something that if we say, ‘Hey we’re going to debate it and (if) we can’t get to a resolution, then we pull them out.’ I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with that all.”

Members of the 425th brigade combat team, based at JBER, are expected to deploy to Afghanistan later this year.



Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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