In a widely anticipated White House speech tonight, President Obama announced his decision to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 2012--10,000 of them to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year.
The number of troops scheduled for withdrawal over the next 15 months represents the contingent of troops ordered "surged" to Afghanistan in a December 2009 speech at West Point. That action brought the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 100,000. Other NATO coalition partners have committed some 60,000 troops to Afghanistan.
The drawdown of the "West Point surge" will leave about 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of next summer; the phased drawdown of U.S forces is scheduled to be completed by 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said Afghan national security forces can take over responsibility for securing their country by that time.
Obama had been weighing whether to withdraw all of the surged forces by next summer as he considered conferred with his national security team on future war plans, according to officials familiar with the discussion. Still, the surge-scale drawdown wasn't reportedly the first choice of some U.S. military commanders, including the top U.S. military commander Gen. David Petraeus; those officials advocated a more gradual withdrawal of forces. Petraeus, who Obama has nominated to head the CIA, is due to leave Afghanistan in July.
The more rapid drawdown pace comes as new polls show for first time that a majority of Americans want U.S. forces to be brought home from Afghanistan--and as lawmakers in both parties are expressing growing impatience with the expense of the war.
"For the first time, a majority (56 percent) [of Americans] says that U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible, while 39% favor keeping troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized," a new poll released this week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found. The proportion of Americans favoring a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has risen 8 points since last month, and 16 points from last year, when only 40 percent of the American public favored removing the troops as soon as possible.
"There's a wariness from the public with the war gone on so long," Pew's Carroll Doherty told the Envoy. In the wake of the May 2Â U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, many Americans believe the United States has largely accomplished its mission there, he said. Increasingly, he added, Americans are focused on the cost of the war. "You see more and more people saying, 'Bring the troops home from Afghanistan,' " as a way to reduce government spending, he said.
Administration officials said they fully understand public frustration with the cost and sacrifice of the 10-year war. Prior to tonight's speech, policy hands at the White House were already working on pulling together what they called a responsible drawdown from Afghanistan.
They also pointed out that Obama had removed more than 100,000 U.S. forces from Iraq since he came into office in January 2009--though a good number of those troops were redeployed into Afghanistan. (When Obama came into office, the United States had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, there are 150,000 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said. By the end of the year, there will be fewer than 100,000 U.S. troops in the two countries, they estimated.)
But White House officials have also stressed that the U.S. had made great progress in achieving the goals that Obama laid out in his West Point speech: namely, to take key al- Qaeda operational figures off the battlefield in Pakistan and significantly degrade al-Qaeda's capabilities to operate from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The remaining mission is to consolidate the gains that U.S forces have made as they try to ensure that Afghanistan or Pakistan do not become safe havens for al-Qaeda to carry out attacks against the United States in the future. Part of that mission involves continuing to train the Afghan national security forces to be able to take over responsibility for security in their country--the next looming logistical challenge for coalition forces.
It was a rare moment: Barack Obama, caught off guard by a ten-year-old boy while in the public spotlight. The US president was taking questions at a town hall meeting in New Orlea
US President Barack Obama charmed his Tokyo audience on Saturday with references to green tea ice cream, Japanese traditional hospitality and, of course, the small town that bears