- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

White House and military officials on Sunday defended President Obama’s announced July 2011 date for the beginning of a U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, saying that the schedule was not a hard-and-fast exit strategy.

“It is not a cliff. It’s a glide slope,” said President Obama’s National Security Adviser James L. Jones on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

“Certainly, the president has also said that we’re not leaving Afghanistan,” he said. “We are here to make sure that Afghanistan succeeds.”

U.S. Central Command head Gen. David H. Petraeus said that the number of troops that will begin leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2011 will be based on success in the field — not a predetermined schedule.

“There’s no time line, no ramp, nothing like that,” said Gen. Petraeus on “Fox News Sunday.” “This doesn’t trigger a rush to the exits. It triggers a beginning of transition to Afghan security forces and, over time, a beginning of transition of tasks to Afghan governmental elements as well.”

But the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said that setting any kind of time line would send then message to the Afghans that the U.S. lacks the political and military will to complete its anti-terrorism mission in the country. Setting time certain schedules, he said, also emboldens al Qaeda and Taliban forces to continue fighting.

“We don’t want the Taliban to make comments, like Taliban prisoners are saying, ‘you’ve got the watches and we have the time,’” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We don’t want to send that message.”

Even one of President Obama’s biggest allies, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, has questioned key parts of Mr. Obama’s war strategy, particularly the president’s announcement last week to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan beginning in early 2010.

“I’m skeptical as to whether 30,000 more troops will make a difference,” said Mr. Durbin on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have over 200,000 now when you count NATO forces, American forces and Afghan military forces.”

The senator declined to say whether he would vote in the Senate to support funding the president’s troop surge.

“I’m going to meet with the president, I’m sure, and have conversations about that deadline which appears to be interpreted different ways by different people,” he said.

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