WASHINGTON — President Bush dropped the ball on rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan, and his decision this week to send more U.S. troops into the country is underwhelming at best, Sen. Harry Reid said Wednesday in a Senate speech.
The Nevada Democrat repeated previous criticisms of the president’s handling of the war in Afghanistan, which was waged the hardest following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 but before the Bush administration shifted its attention to Iraq in 2003.
The Senate majority leader said his views were strengthened by the trip he took to Afghanistan in August with four other senators.
During a visit to a vocational school, Reid said he was impressed by young people who were being taught about computers and car repair, and who were learning English.
Despite chaos, “the young people I met were still brimming with hope,” Reid said.
“But there was another conclusion I could not avoid: The progress I saw is being terribly undermined by deteriorating security,” he said.
Roadside bombings and attacks on U.S.-led forces have increased in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan where insurgent Taliban forces have found sanctuary.
Counting 45 troops who were killed, June was the deadliest month for foreign forces in Afghanistan since 2001, according to an Associated Press calculation.
Bush on Tuesday announced he would send, 4,500 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan by early next year in an attempt to quell the growing strength of the insurgents. Currently there are about 33,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
Bush also called for doubling the size of the Afghan army.
Reid said the president’s action was insufficient, calling it a “token shift of troop levels.”
His comments echoed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, who said this week Bush’s plan “comes up short. It is not enough troops and not enough resources, with not enough urgency.”
Reid said after meeting with U.S. generals in Afghanistan that they needed more resources.
Commanders have said they need at least 10,000 more troops.
“Yesterday, President Bush had one last chance to meaningfully change his strategy and begin to reverse all these backsliding trends,” Reid said in his speech. “He chose not to. He chose to stick with the status quo and not make significant changes.”
Speaking on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Reid also noted Osama bin Laden remains free.
“For all the tough rhetoric of chasing Bin Laden to the gates of hell, the Bush administration has failed to put the necessary resources and manpower into the hunt for America’s No. 1 enemy,” he said.
At the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Dana Perino said Bush remains focused on catching bin Laden.
“President Bush has been working and directing thousands of men and women across our intelligence community to help us find Osama bin Laden, his deputies, and to disrupt plans to attack America again, wherever they might be plotted,” Perino said. “He has not let up on that, and that fight and that hunt will continue to go on until he is brought to justice.”
“This is not the movies, we don’t have superpowers,” Perino said. “But what we do have is very dedicated people who are working with our allies to try to bring (bin Laden) to justice.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.