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Obama likely to cut 10K troops from Afghanistan
Question of the Day
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is expected to withdraw roughly 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year, with about 5,000 forces leaving this summer and an additional 5,000 Americans coming home by the end of the year, a senior U.S. defense official said Tuesday.
Obama is also weighing a timetable for recalling the 20,000 other troops he ordered to Afghanistan as part of his December 2009 decision to send reinforcements to reverse the Taliban’s battlefield momentum. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the plans before Obama’s formal announcement.
The White House said Obama would address the nation from the White House at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Ahead of that announcement, Obama called Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the White House Tuesday for an Afghanistan strategy session. Aides have said Obama wants to ensure that the drawdown set to begin next month puts the U.S. on a path toward giving Afghans control of their own security by 2014.
A reduction this year totaling 10,000 troops would be the rough equivalent of two brigades, which are the main building blocks of an Army division. It’s not clear whether Obama’s decision would require the Pentagon to pull out two full brigades or, instead, a collection of smaller combat and support units with an equivalent number of troops.
Obama was given a range of options for the withdrawal last week by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan. The military has favored a gradual reduction in troops but other advisers were advocating for significant decrease in the coming months.
The president has said he favors a “significant” withdrawal, his advisers have not quantified that statement.
Following the announcement on the drawdown, Obama will visit troops Thursday at Fort Drum, the upstate New York military base that is home to the 10th Mountain Division, one of the most frequently deployed divisions to Afghanistan and Iraq.
While much of the attention is focused on how many troops will leave Afghanistan next month, the more telling aspects of Obama’s decision center on what happens after July, particularly how long the president plans to keep the surge forces in the country.
Military commanders want to keep as many of those forces in Afghanistan for as long as possible, arguing that too fast a withdrawal could undermine the fragile security gains in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, the al-Qaida training ground for the Sept. 11 attacks. There are also concerns about pulling out a substantial number of U.S. forces as the heightened summer fighting season gets under way.
Gates, who is retiring from the Pentagon next week, has said he believes the initial drawdown should be “modest.”
But other advisers backed a more significant withdrawal that starts in July and proceeds steadily through the following months. That camp believes the slow yet steady security gains in Afghanistan, combined with the death of Osama bin Laden and U.S. success in dismantling much of the al-Qaida network in the country, give the president an opportunity to make larger reductions this year.
“It goes without saying that there are a lot of reservations in the Congress about the war in Afghanistan and our level of commitment. There are concerns among the American people who are tired of a decade of war,” Gates said during a news conference at the State Department.
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