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U.S. lawmakers visit Afghanistan to press case for troops to stay

U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner answers a question during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 26, 2014. R
U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner answers a question during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 26, 2014. R

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, is leading a delegation of Republican lawmakers on a trip to Afghanistan to underscore their call for U.S. forces to remain there and also to review the country's presidential election, Boehner's office said on Monday.

Boehner and seven other House Republicans met with U.S. troops, the U.S. ambassador and the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan during the two-day visit that began on Sunday.

The April 5 vote is meant to usher in Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power as President Hamid Karzai steps down after 12 years and Western forces prepare to depart after more than a decade of war.

Democratic President Barack Obama plans to withdraw most, or possibly all, U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, winding down a conflict that began following the September 11, 2001, attacks. Obama would like to leave about 8,000 troops to train Afghan forces and for a counter-terrorism mission. Karzai, however, has declined to sign an agreement allowing this.

Many Republican lawmakers have pressed for more U.S. forces to stay and say they want to avoid a duplication of the instability in Iraq, where they blame Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. troops in 2011 for a wave of sectarian violence.

Boehner's office said the visit aimed to send "a strong, unequivocal message that the House of Representatives wants to maintain a right-sized presence in Afghanistan."

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool)

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