The Senate voted 62-33 on a non-binding amendment for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting. Above, soldiers observe the impact of artillery rounds fired Nov. 21 from an Afghan D-30 howitzer during partnered training in eastern Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Nicolas Morales / Army)
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WASHINGTON — Reflecting a war-weary nation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday for an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting.
The strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to President Obama and the military as they engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 68,000 U.S. troops, with a White House announcement expected within weeks.
Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defense policy bill, its significance could not be discounted amid the current discussions.
Thirteen Republicans, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the measure.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., its chief sponsor, argued that al-Qaida is stronger in other parts of the world and that nation-building in Afghanistan has gone off track. His measure endorsed Obama's timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.
"It is time to end this war, end the longest war in United States history," Merkley said during Senate debate.
The overall bill authorizes $631 billion for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The White House threatened to veto the legislation in its current form, citing limits on the president's authority in handling detainees at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restrictions on cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
The Senate hopes to wrap up its version of the bill by week's end. It then would have to be reconciled with the legislation the House passed in May. The House bill calls for Obama to maintain a force of at least 68,000 troops through the end of 2014.
The Senate eliminated one provision that had attracted White House objections. In a strong bipartisan vote Wednesday, the Senate voted to allow Pentagon investment in alternative fuels.