KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Drawdown plans announced by the U.S. and more than a dozen other nations will shrink the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan by 40,000 troops at the close of next year, leaving Afghan forces increasingly on the frontlines of the decade-long war.
The United States is pulling out the most — 33,000 by the end of 2012. That’s one-third of 101,000 American troops who were in Afghanistan in June — the peak of U.S. military presence in the war, according to figures provided by the Pentagon.
Others in the 49-nation coalition have announced withdrawal plans too, even as they insist they are not rushing to leave. Many nations have vowed to keep troops in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan police and army in the years to come. And many have pledged to keep sending aid to the impoverished country after the international combat mission ends in 2014.
Still, the exit is making Afghans nervous.
They fear their nation could plunge into civil war once the foreign forces go home. Their confidence in the Afghan security forces has risen, but they don’t share the U.S.-led coalition’s stated belief that the Afghan soldiers and policemen will be ready to secure the entire nation in three years. Others worry the Afghan economy will collapse if foreigners leave and donors get stingy with aid.
Foreign forces began leaving Afghanistan this year.
About 14,000 foreign troops will withdraw by the end of December, according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen nations’ drawdown plans. The United States is pulling out 10,000 service members this year; Canada withdrew 2,850 combat forces this summer; France and Britain will each send about 400 home; Poland is recalling 200; and Denmark and Slovenia are pulling out about 120 combined.
Troop cutbacks will be deeper next year when an estimated 26,000 more will leave. That figure includes 23,000 Americans; 950 Germans; 600 more French; 500 additional Britons; 400 Poles; 290 Belgians; 156 Spaniards; and 100 Swedes.
Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the AP that the number of Marines in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan will drop “markedly” in 2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to training and advising Afghan security forces.
Amos declined to discuss the number of Marines expected to leave in 2012.
There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is scheduled to fall to about 18,500 by the end of this year.
“Am I OK with that? The answer is ‘yes,’” Amos said. “We can’t stay in Afghanistan forever.”
“Will it work? I don’t know. But I know we’ll do our part.”
Additional troop cuts or accelerated withdrawals are possible.
Many other countries, including Hungary, Finland and Italy, are finalizing their withdrawal schedules. Presidential elections in Europe and the European debt crisis also could speed up pullout plans. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said this week that Australia’s training mission could be completed before the 2014 target date.