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Kentuckians greet Obama Afghanistan plan with qualified support, skepticism

WASHINGTON — As a wary Congress considers President Obama's new Afghanistan policy, Kentucky's delegation raised questions about the strategy, timetables and plans to pay for the buildup.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the administration use an unspent stimulus surplus to fund the war efforts.

"We know the stimulus failed," McConnell said during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "It was sold to the Congress and to the American people with the suggestion that it would hold unemployment below 8 percent. We know unemployment is over 10 percent. We're looking for a way to fund several years of the war. I would suggest unexpended stimulus funds would be a good place to start."

With the 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama plans to send to Afghanistan, the United States will have nearly 100,000 troops there. The forces are tackling a resurgent Taliban. Violence against Afghans and coalition forces are at their highest levels of the eight-year war.

Troops slated to head to Afghanistan include soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

"Decisions like the one announced tonight by President Obama are always difficult," Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, said after Obama's speech Tuesday. "For years, I have been concerned that the previous administration had the wrong priorities — instead of directing resources to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, we took our eye off the ball. Now, reluctantly, we will again have to call on our brave troops to finish a job in Afghanistan that should have been finished years ago."

While most members of Kentucky's congressional delegation are prepared to conditionally support the plan to send more troops, the lawmakers stress that efforts in Afghanistan must include consistent pressure to root out corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

McConnell, who attended a White House briefing on Afghanistan strategy Tuesday afternoon, said Senate Republicans will largely support the president's renewed push.

"We believe the surge in Afghanistan has a good chance of working just like the surge in Iraq did," McConnell said.

Still, many Republican lawmakers balk at the idea of setting timetables for withdrawal.

"I have serious concerns about President Obama's commitment to actually winning the war given his troubling decision to set a timetable for troop withdrawal," Sen. Jim Bunning said. "By announcing an arbitrary deadline for our forces to come home — possibly before the job is done — the president is telling our enemies how long they will have to hold out and wait until we leave."

In Lexington, Obama's announcement got a negative response from anti-war activists and a skeptical one from some talk-radio callers.

The Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice's Peace Action Task Group held a demonstration in Triangle Park Tuesday evening to oppose the increase in troops. At around 5:45 p.m., fewer than 20 protesters were there.

"We've been there for eight years, and for those folks, it looks like an occupation," said Richard Mitchell, the group's spokesman. "We haven't kept our eyes on the prize, and the prize here is al-Qaida and the Taliban."

He said a better way to approach terrorism would be through intelligence, police work and aid, particularly to Afghanistan's educational system.

Mary Ann Ghosal of Richmond, who held a sign that said "No Surge," said she voted for Obama, but she's disappointed in his decision on Afghanistan.

"I think it's going to be very bad for Obama," she said. "There are people who want to see him fail. He could very well end up a one-term president."

Leland Conway, who hosts an afternoon talk show on WLAP-630 AM, asked listeners Tuesday afternoon to consider why Obama did not meet with General Stanley A. McChrystal sooner.

"Most of the callers are very supportive of our troops," Conway said in a later interview, "but they're dubious about the way that Obama's come around to this decision.

"There's a lack of trust there that there's a commitment to win the war."

Conway said the president is trying to show "deliberation in making a decision," but he spent too much time doing it, focusing instead on cap and trade and health care before tackling the issue, then waiting weeks after meeting with McChrystal to make a decision on the general's recommendations.

And, he said, McChrystal requested more troops than Obama will be sending.

"I either want to win," Conway said, "or bring them all home."