Kyl Hopes Senate Will Back Afghan Plan Financially

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Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) has said he wanted to see how closely President Obama would follow the recommendations of his military commanders. Kyl tells Renee Montagne that he hopes the Senate will be supportive of the funding the president needs to carry out this mission. He adds that Republicans have concerns about the timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And let's some more reaction now from - here in Washington, D.C. Joining us is Senator Jon Kyl. He's a Republican from Arizona, part of his party's leadership in the Senate. Good morning.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have said you wanted to see how closely President Obama would follow the recommendations of his military commanders. What do you think? Are you satisfied?

Sen. KYL: Well, the president makes the decision, and it's up to us to try to support that decision, even though we may disagree with elements of it. And I can't speak for all Republicans, but I hope and believe that we will, at least in the Senate, be supportive of the funding that will be necessary to carry out this mission and any other issues that would be supportive of the mission.

MONTAGNE: Would you say generally Republicans will be supportive of the funding for this mission?

Sen. KYL: I believe that we will, yes. Now, I think we have some concerns, particularly about the last item in your report there, the fact that the president specifically designated July of 2011 as the date in which the troops will begin to be withdrawn, which makes this mission much, much more difficult than it otherwise would have been.

MONTAGNE: Now, how so? I mean, part of the president's audience in - that he was speaking to there was an American public that is, in some sense, tired of this war, that is to some degree skeptical and against this war. Doesn't he need to give a sense that this is not an endless commitment?

Sen. KYL: The president certainly had a challenge in dealing with the left, and certainly a lot of his party has reacted negatively to any kind of additional troops. But they didn't want the war in the first place - of course they were willing to call up the good war when President Bush was trying to fight in Iraq. That was the bad war, you'll recall. This was supposed to be good war, and the president himself called it a war of necessity.

But when it came time then to put your money where your mouth is, in effect, a lot of the president's supporters walked away and said, no, you can't send more troops. So he had a difficult problem, you're right. But the object here is not to please your political base, but to win the war. And he hurt that effort by putting a specific deadline for the beginning of withdrawal.

MONTAGNE: Although Senator, part of winning the war�

Sen. KYL: May I just make another point? You asked me how so, and let me try to explain that. It sends a message not just to the enemy that they can lay low for 18 months and then begin to emerge again, but also to the Afghanis and in particular to the Pakistanis. I was there in April, and Ambassador Holbrooke urged me to take the message to the Pakistanis that we would not abandon them this time, that we would stay.

Part of that was never to get them to commit more strongly against the terrorists in Pakistan. At that time they really weren't doing it. Subsequently, they really began a significant effort in Waziristan, in the Swat Valley and other places where terrorists had taken hold. And the Pakistanis - I think that they are really stepping up the effort. But their government is weak and there are elements within that country that I think are weighing very carefully whether to in effect throw in with us or to make their accommodations with the terrorists, as they have done in the past.

That remains a delicate balance both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That's what I fear will be negatively impacted by this specific date for withdrawal.

MONTAGNE: Although President Obama did emphasize in his speech a long-term commitment to Pakistan as an ally. And then let me just turn another thing that he said. He said that he needed to instill a sense of urgency in Kabul because�

Sen. KYL: Yeah. There�

MONTAGNE: �the counterinsurgency strategy will not work without a partner in Kabul.

Sen. KYL: That's very true. I think that you instill that, though, in ways other than by setting a withdrawal deadline, which is there for all of the world to see. Now, General Petraeus, I must say, this morning in interviews, stressed that it would still be dependent, to some extent, on conditions. The president chose not to emphasize that.

I think that the president can make it more likely that his strategy will be successful if he makes it clear that that is a goal, as General Petraeus described it, rather than a specific date as the president described it. It'll make it easier to get people to come along, and that includes the Afghans too, because after all, as you point out, they are the ones on the frontline. They'll be in the neighborhood after we go, whenever that is.

And the question is will the, you know, situation where they can actually hold areas that we've taken from the Taliban and provide protection for their people, or will they have to revert to what has been the situation in that part of the world, which is you simply make deals with your enemies, and you give them part of the land to control and you control a part of it, and�

MONTAGNE: Senator?

Sen. KYL: �then the people suffer as a result.

MONTAGNE: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, part of the Republican leadership in the Senate, thanks very much. And you are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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