Nebraska Senator to continue push for troop withdrawal

Declaring the administration's surge strategy in Iraq a failure, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Wednesday vowed a renewed push for his "mission transition" proposal to draw troops out of combat in Iraq and limit their role in the war there to counterterrorism operations and training Iraqi security forces.

Nelson said he believed his plan, which he offered last year with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, as an alternative to a troop withdrawal proposal, could attract the Republican backing needed for passage. "It has the opportunity to get bipartisan support if the White House does not view it as a hostile proposal ... and it is not intended as a hostile proposal," said Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, in a conference call conducted with Rand Beers, a former member of the White House National Security Council.

A vote on Nelson's proposal was scuttled in July by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after Reid's troop withdrawal measure proposal failed, 52-47. Sixty votes were needed to advance the measure. Nelson said Wednesday his own plan always had "traction" and he intended to continue pressing for a vote on it when the Senate returns later this month.

"When we get back, there will be a lot of pressure" to do something about Iraq, he said.

Nelson and Beers argued that the surge is not a success because -- although the operation had met key military objectives -- it had fallen far short of achieving its overall goal of prompting the Iraqi factions to reconcile their differences and form a government.

Noting that President Bush announced the surge initiative last January, Nelson said: "Here we are one year later and it's like Groundhog Day. Everything seems to be the same."

Beers, who left the NSC in 2003 to protest the invasion of Iraq and served as a foreign policy adviser for the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the failure of the Iraqis to reach a political accord had left Iraqi security personnel "riven" by factionalism. Despite all the U.S. training they have received, "we still do not have competent and credible [Iraqi] security forces," he said.

Beers added that while the United States persisted with the war effort in Iraq, "we have taken our eye off" Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time when al-Qaida has been regrouping and re-emerging as a major threat in the border region between the two countries.

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