Afghan pullout seen as too much, too soon

Retired military officers fault move

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Former battlefield commanders are warning that President Obama’s accelerated troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in time for the 2012 presidential election risks reversing major gains made against the Taliban.

“It is not only too fast a withdrawal, but too large,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who was a top adviser to Afghanistan commander Gen. David H. Petraeus and an architect of the successful 2007 troop-reinforcement in Iraq.

“Fundamentally, we will be asking the troops to do more with less, which, unfortunately, means an increase in casualties,” he told The Washington Times.

Mr. Obama last month ordered the Pentagon to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and an additional 23,000 by next summer. That will leave about 70,000 U.S. troops in the country.

The president ordered a surge of about 30,000 troops in December 2009 to increase the fight against a resurgent Taliban force.

Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican and a retired Army combat officer, complained that Mr. Obama has ordered the troop withdrawal without linking it to conditions on the ground.

“The president just put some type of timeline on there that was not conditions-based,” said Mr. West, who held the rank of lieutenant colonel and served in Iraq.

“You have to have conditions-based operations, which dictate how you transition from phase to phase. There is no strategy which the president brought forth.”

He added that the Taliban, which imposed a brutal Islamist rule on Afghanistan and sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, already is trying to take political advantage of Mr. Obama’s withdrawal schedule. He said some tribal leaders in areas threatened by the Taliban are beginning to worry that the United States will abandon them.

“The only thing he talked about was the timeline,” Mr. West said of the president. “The Taliban has taken it and spinning it, and it has caused some concern with people in the tribal areas. Do they think this is the beginning of the end - turning our backs on them?”

However, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and another combat veteran who toured Afghanistan last week, said Mr. Obama’s announcement should not have surprised anyone.

Mr. Hunter, a Marine Reserve officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that U.S. commanders knew Mr. Obama would start reducing troops this summer when he announced the surge a year ago. The Afghan army also is growing stronger and will be in a position a year from now to take over areas patrolled by NATO forces, he said.

“If you think in the back of your mind there was any political motivation for the drawdown and you think the timing may be off a little bit, you still knew that we were going to draw down. And if you can complete the objectives, then we can do it,” he said.

“The military guys think that they got this as long as those troops are not pulled from the main effort. As long as it’s done smartly. Nobody over there is complaining that we’re going to be drawing down and pulling back from Afghanistan, as long as we can keep the mission and then keep the homeland safe. Everybody wants to see our troops come home, including me.”

Gen. Keane had toured Afghanistan to provide one of the first independent assessments of the troop surge last year.

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