In December 2009, two months after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama made an announcement that he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. At the same time, he promised a July 2011 deadline for initiating a draw-down of forces from the occupied country. Officers in Afghanistan have drafted a preliminary plan to make good on the President’s promise. If approved by top military officials, the first phase of withdrawal will see 5000 U.S. soldiers returning home in 2 months with 5000 more following by year’s end.
Officials say that they want to preserve combat power for the summer fighting season so the initial withdrawal will focus on “support staff” such as cooks. Officially, there are 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Of the 40,000 supporting NATO troops, some may also be pulling out this summer.
According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal:
“Military officials believe the White House doesn’t want a precipitous drawdown that would undercut U.S. gains in southern Afghanistan, a traditional stronghold of the Taliban, whose top leadership in Pakistan have had longstanding ties to bin Laden and his terror organization.
“Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said bin Laden’s death could be a ‘game-changer’ in Afghanistan. U.S. officials hope that the weakening of al Qaeda might make their Taliban allies more receptive to a negotiated settlement, though they say it could take six months or longer to know what impact bin Laden’s death will have on the fighting.”
If this ICOS study is any indication, 6 years or longer might be a more accurate figure. American headlines have trouble spreading to Helmand or Kandahar.
Shawn Turner, spokesman for the President’s National Security Council says its too early to conclude anything about a forthcoming drawdown.
“The president has made no decision about the scope and pace of the drawdown that will begin in July, nor has he received any recommendation,” he said, adding “Any speculation is therefore completely premature and says nothing about the decision that the president will ultimately make.”
Top military brass aren’t willing to admit if they’ve moved beyond a cursory evaluation of scaling down operations in Afghanistan. Hal Pittman, Rear Admiral and senior spokesman for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan told the Journal that Gen. Petraeus:
“has not finalized his thinking on the issue, nor shared it even with those who have supported the analysis which he, alone, will convey to the chain of command.”
The White House has said that it would like to hand over all security responsibilities to the Afghans by the end of 2014.