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Haley Barbour says it's time to consider troop reductions in Afghanistan

Gov. Haley Barbour speaks at a meeting of the Mississippi Energy Policy Institute in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. Barbour says the Gulf Coast oil spill occurred because the companies involved deviated from industry standards, not because of the inherent risk of drilling offshore.
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Haley Barbour
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The United States should rethink its presence in Afghanistan, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told a conservative audience in Iowa Tuesday night.

"I think we need to look at that," Barbour said with respect to reducing troop levels in Afghanistan, Politico reports.

The remarks from Barbour, a likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate who's well-respected among GOP insiders, points to increasing divisions among Republicans regarding the longtime conflict.

In early 2010, President Obama sent an additional 30,000 troops to the war zone, a move largely supported by Republicans. There are currently about 100,000 American troops in the country. The Pentagon plans to start drawing down troops this summer, but it's unclear how significant the reduction will be.

"What is our mission?" Barbour said Tuesday. "How many Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?"

He added that the U.S. shouldn't try to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style democracy like Ireland or Italy.

Barbour's statements are another indication that Republicans are increasingly willing to reconsider the resources the United States is dedicating to Afghanistan. Last month, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another potential 2012 candidate, also expressed skepticism about the war.

At an event in Washington, Huckabee said he started doubting the war after visiting Afghanistan in 2006. "I came away from that experience wondering: What does the end game look like here? I can't see a conclusion," he said, according to the Huffington Post.

Conservative policy analysts and activists are also increasingly skeptical. Earlier this year, prominent conservative Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, started appealing to conservatives to rethink the war, in part because of its impact on the national debt and deficit.

Additionally, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler told Hotsheet in January that while the Tea Party doesn't typically take positions on foreign policy, the fiscally conservative group believes "everything should be on the table" when it comes to spending cuts, including war and defense spending.

The Defense Department budget Congress approved in December 2010 allotted $158.7 billion for overseas combat, or about $3 billion a week for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Washington Post/ ABC News poll out this week showed that 64 percent of Americans believe the Afghanistan war is not worth fighting, including about half of Republicans.

Army Gen. David Petraeus told Congress yesterday he "can understand the frustration" the American people have with the ongoing war.

"We have been at this for ten years," he said. "We have spent an enormous amount of money. We have sustained very tough losses."

He reiterated his belief in the importance of the mission at large, however, and said the U.S. has made progress there. Petraeus said he supported the president's goal of beginning to withdraw some troops in July of this year.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that combat operations should end in 2014 but that the U.S. will continue to have a presence in Afghanistan beyond that point.