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Romney and Huntsman accuse Perry of Afghanistan flip-flop

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman‘s presidential campaigns both issued statements late Thursday responding to The Cable‘s interview with a senior foreign policy advisor for Rick Perry, in which the advisor clarified Perry’s stance on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. "[Perry] would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital ...

Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman‘s presidential campaigns both issued statements late Thursday responding to The Cable‘s interview with a senior foreign policy advisor for Rick Perry, in which the advisor clarified Perry’s stance on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

"[Perry] would lean toward wanting to bring our troops home, but he understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he’s recommending," the advisor said. "He has a clear sense of the mission and wanting to win it, but not just by throwing the kitchen sink at it."

In an e-mail titled, "Rick’s reversal on Afghanistan," the Romney campaign pointed to Perry’s comments on Afghanistan at Monday’s debate, where he said, "I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan — I don’t think so at this particular point in time."

The Romney e-mail also referred to Perry’s interview with Time magazine, published today, which quoted Perry as saying, "I think we need to try to move our men and women home as soon as we can. Not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq as well."

Romney has some experience with clarifying debate comments on Afghanistan. In the first GOP debate, he said, "It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can — as soon as our generals think it’s okay…. One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence." Some Republicans interpreted Romney’s statement as a call for a quick exit.

In the second GOP debate Aug. 11, Romney said he always supported a slower withdrawal of troops than what Obama has announced, but he incorrectly stated that U.S. military leaders "recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012." 

In this week’s GOP debate, Perry began his answer on Afghanistan by saying he agreed with Huntsman, who just moments before had called for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. His advisor’s subsequent comments to The Cable also provoked a response from the Huntsman campaign, who accused him of changing his tune.

"Governor Perry’s attempt to walk back his support for Governor Huntsman’s position on Afghanistan shows a fundamental lack of leadership and understanding of foreign policy," Huntsman senior foreign policy advisor Randy Schriver said in his statement.

Huntsman, for one, is not backing off his calls for a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"We need to send a clear message to the world that we understand the asymmetrical threat we face and will respond with counter terror forces, intelligence gathering, and a limited number of troops to train Afghan forces," Schriver said. "This does not require 100,000 boots on the ground in Afghanistan. We need to bring those troops home."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin